Collins back in the limelight as Clare’s season turns a corner
Limerick in talented forward’s sights after his impressive impact against Tipperary
Podge Collins celebrates Clare’s dramatic late win over Tipperary in Thurles. Photograph: James Crombie
For someone playing mostly cameo parts all year, Podge Collins has suddenly found himself back in a starring role. Without him, Clare might not be battling to secure a place in the Munster hurling final – the only problem being what part to give him now.
Sunday’s photo-finish victory over Tipperary at Semple Stadium was decided on two distinct turning points, Collins proving central to them both. Introduced off the bench just before half-time, he hit one of Clare’s three unanswered scores at the death which ultimately decided the game – the other two from Peter Duggan, including a brilliant score from the right sideline.
With five minutes of normal time remaining, and Tipperary ahead by four, 1-19 to 0-18, Collins also went on a raiding run before passing to another substitute Ian Galvin, who then finished precisely to the net to bring Clare back to the minimum margin.
“He [Galvin] has been showing that form all year in training and ultimately we challenged him all week that ‘you need to deliver on the promise you’ve been showing in training,’ said Clare joint-manager Gerry O’Connor, the same going for Collins, presumably. Both it seems have earned that starting role.
Collins himself finished with 0-3; it was to most observers his best display since the high point of 2013, when, at just 21, he was central to Clare’s All-Ireland winning run – ending that season with an All Star and nomination for player of the year.
In the five years since, Collins has had his highs and lows but mostly been in between. For 2014, he decided to mix both football and hurling, his father Colm being the Clare football manager. He was sent off against Wexford and missed the replay when the Banner bowed out of the championship.
Before the summer of 2015, he indicated he would play football only, although didn’t always appear entirely comfortable with that decision, nor the reasons behind it. Either way it didn’t matter as he ended up sidelined with a torn cruciate ligament injury, sustained in a club game with Cratloe.
After one more dual season in 2016, Collins went with hurling only last year, still not quite hitting those high points of 2013. He started but was replaced in all three of Clare’s championship games last summer. Sunday at Semple Stadium was unquestionably a return to that 2013 form – Clare’s first win over Tipp in Thurles since 1928. Pain and desperation sometimes brings out the best in people.
Now, going Sunday’s last round-robin of the Munster championship against Limerick in Ennis, with a Munster final spot on the line, Clare joint managers O’Connor and Donal Maloney have a question to address – whether to start Collins or not?
He didn’t feature at all in the round one game against Cork, which Clare lost 2-23 to 1-21, but did come off the bench in the second round win over Waterford, replacing Conor McGrath for the last 10 minutes – as he did for the entire second half against Tipp on Sunday.
For now Collins is saying all the right things – praising strength of Clare’s panel and impact of other substitutes on Sunday, including Darragh Corry and Séadna Morey:
“Obviously we’re happy enough the way things went,” Collins told Clare FM, “and I was delighted as well for Ian [Galvin] ), sticking in the goal, Darragh Corry excellent when he came on, Séadna Morey up and down the wing all day. These players want to be getting their chance to start and they’ll be really pushing too.
“We’re into the All-Ireland series, that was our goal at the start of the year. Obviously there is still the carrot of a Munster final to play for against Limerick, so we just have to recover and get right for that. They had a big win over Waterford, and they’re probably the form team at the moment.”
Going into Sunday’s final round of games, Waterford and Tipperary already both eliminated, Clare are the only team to win one of their away games (against Tipp on Sunday). Collins agreed having the one weekend off, after Waterford and Cork, and before Tipperary and Limerick suited them.
“Two games and then the break, so we probably got the best draw. Tipperary were full on top after 15 minutes, we came more and more into it as the game wore on, lads like John Conlon, Shane O’Donnell, Peter Duggan really came into it. And fortunately enough when the final whistle went we were ahead, and that’s the only time you want to be ahead as far as I’m concerned.
“If you want to get along in this competition you have to win your home games, so to win away from home, against Tipperary in Semple Stadium, was a massive thing for any Clare team. But there’s nothing won. We enjoyed it for five minutes after the game, and are concentrating on playing Limerick now. A Munster final at stake, and after being beaten so badly last year, we’d love to get back there and redeem ourselves.”
It’s their third successive championships meeting, Clare beating Limerick in last year’s semi-final, and the 2016 qualifier, although Limerick came out on top in their league quarter-final this year, after their 100-plus minute ultra-marathon, eventually won on the free-taking shootout. Collins didn’t start or finish that game – but will be hoping to play a key role next Sunday.