Neil Collins is expressing himself both on and off the pitch
Defender is a key member of Roscommon side chasing the Division Two title
Roscommon’s Neil Collins fighting past Cavan challenges at Breffni Park. The defender is also fighting to make his mark in the fashion industry. Photograph: Andrew Paton/Inpho
“Nice shirt”, he says, by way of an opening compliment, and so begins an immediately less ordinary interview. Collins has already made a name for himself as one of Roscommon’s most expressive defenders, and now hopes to do likewise off the field, expressing himself in the men’s fashion business.
It’s still early days, and for now Collins is entirely focused on the Allianz Football League Division Two final, against Down, where Roscommon hope to round off an exceptional early season campaign by winning that title outright: they’re already guaranteed Division One football in 2016, and Sunday offers them the Croke Park stage to demonstrate why.
For Collins – who was voted 2014 Roscommon footballer of the year – there is also the longer term focus of his newfound business interest. Although he studied sports science at DCU (where he won two Sigerson Cup medals) all his interests now, at least outside football, are in fashion, and his new company, Cryptic Clique.
“I studied sports science in college,” he confirms, “but I’ve always been interested in clothes, and clothing design. And I’ve always been interested in music and style, say. They’ve always been something I’ve been interested in outside of sport. I think the two of them are quite closely connected.
“I thought it was a hobby, but it’s something I want to pursue now as a career. It’s something I want to work on full-time. It [Cryptic Clique] is in the early stages. After last year’s championship, I went travelling for five months, around South America, because that was something I always wanted to do, to go wild for a while.
“Now that I’m back, this is what I’m working on, and what I want to pursue as a career. I am learning a lot about it, but I think if you’ve the belief that you can achieve something and you’re willing to break a few doors down, you’ll get there. But it’s certainly untraditional, so it’s something I have to work hard on.”
By now, no one in the Roscommon team looks twice if Collins shows up at training wearing a multicoloured tight-fitting shirt (or whatever is actually fashionable these days). His commitment, as it is with his club Castlerea St Kevin’s, is absolute.
“Yeah, it’s gone beyond the stage where the lads have a laugh when I walk in. I think you earn your reputation on the pitch as a footballer, not outside it. When I train as a footballer, I train hard. So it doesn’t affect it at all.”
As for expressing himself on the field, Collins credits Roscommon manager John Evans for designing a style of football that best allows that. Not many people gave them much chance of promotion, having only come up from Division Three in 2013, and while Evans hinted they may not yet be ready for Division One, now they’re there no one is looking back.
“So it was our ambition to get promoted and we feel we can compete at that level, if we put in a lot of work between now and then. That’s if we go there with real belief. We obviously understand that it’s a far higher level and the teams there have been consistently there. We have a lot of work to compete there. But definitely it’s something we want to do. To achieve anything, you have to have belief in yourself.”
Evans, he says, is never short of belief, even if he did put out that suggestion that Roscommon may not be ready for Division One: “Look, as you go through the league you’re not thinking, ‘we really want to get promoted.’ You’re looking at each game and saying, ‘we need to perform in each game.’
“We also know we haven’t competed consistently over the last 10 years, we haven’t been playing at a high level. So we need to instil a core belief in ourselves, and John has definitely helped us to do that. He’s an enthusiastic man and he has strong personality and character, and I think that’s important in any successful relationship between players and management. So it definitely has helped.”