Nathan Collins, the latest Leixlip lad set to play key role in Ireland’s last line

A near neighbour of Andrew Omobamidele, Collins’s family are steeped in the game

 Nathan Collins on his Burnley debut against Norwich City at Turf Moor on October 2nd. Photograph: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Nathan Collins on his Burnley debut against Norwich City at Turf Moor on October 2nd. Photograph: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

 

After growing up, high above the rest of us, just a stone’s throw from each other, Andrew Omobamidele and Nathan Collins could end up giving Leixlip an international dimension.

What’s increasing apparent is the pair will not be waiting behind Shane Duffy, John Egan and Dara O’Shea forever.

“They’re all class,” said Collins, the 20-year-old centre half signed by Burnley for €14 million this summer, “so it’s hard to say when my chance is going to come but I am willing to bide my time and hopefully if I do get a chance, I can show what I can do.”

Coaches, players and equally gifted relatives have seen what Collins can do since he leapt four years ahead of his own age grade to play alongside big brother Josh at Cherry Orchard.

By 2016 he had outgrown The Orchard while Stoke City could only keep him for five seasons.

As Irish players disappear from Premier League squads at an alarming rate, Ireland’s ball-playing centre halves both made their debuts this season in the top flight. Neither man looked out of place even if it promises to be a short-lived experience as Burnley and Norwich City are odds on to be Championship clubs next season. That might prove no harm.

Omobamidele burst into the international arena against Portugal, before a slick shift against Serbia, all because of injuries to O’Shea and Collins.

“He was one of the best players on the pitch in both games, wasn’t he?” asked Collins, sitting in the Hilton hotel mezzanine among the high rises in downtown Baku. “I’m really happy for him, he’s my good mate, I’ve known him for years now so I was buzzing for him.”

For every outstanding Omobamidele performance as a teenager Collins was dominating nearby skies.

“I only lived two minutes away from him so I’ve known him since I was a young kid. We weren’t on the same estate but I knew all about him growing up. I was mates with his mates. We’re from Leixlip, it’s a small place so everyone knows everyone.”

Nathan Collins’s family are steeped in the game going back to his granddad. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Nathan Collins’s family are steeped in the game going back to his granddad. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Not unlike Irish football. Ireland manager Stephen Kenny name checks the six foot four inch Collins at every opportunity, being fully aware of his lineage having mixed with the Collins brothers, David and Eamonn, on the pitch and across League of Ireland dugouts.

Occasionally your family make mistakes so you don’t have to. His cousin Mikey and father David both have cautionary tales from their brief stints at Liverpool.

“I know what football is like,” David Collins told the Irish Independent about saving his son’s early wages at Stoke for a deposit on a house. “You can come back with nothing.”

Collins junior agrees. “He is still the main person I’d bounce things off about the game.”

No father would forget their brief conversation on the evening of October 1st, 2021.

“The mad thing is I told my dad the night before that there was a chance,” said Collins of his Premier League debut against Norwich City at Turf Moor. “I said there was a possibility and he was straight on the first flight over the next morning.

“I think he woke up at about 5am and got on the next flight, jumped on it straight away and then obviously I started so he was able to catch it and he was loving every minute of it.

“I can’t thank him enough for what they’ve done for me from when I was a kid, they’ve done everything possible. For me to go home that same night and share it with them all was a real good thing.”

No defender should complain about a clean sheet in their Premier League bow but Collins has that weakness.

“I felt knackered by the end of it, mentally I was drained as I had to be switched on for the full 90 minutes. I knew [Teemu] Pukki from playing against him before and he waits for you to switch off and then he will create that little movement.

“I’m really harsh on myself and as much as I want to say I done well, I just think about the things I done wrong and where I need to improve to get me to that next standard.”

Nathan Collins is just the latest chapter in a family football history dating back to granddad Mick captaining Transport to the FAI Cup in 1950.

“When I was younger I didn’t really know a lot about football or watch it, I just loved playing. Obviously I knew my cousin Mikey, he played for Liverpool at the time, so he was the only one I really knew about.”

“The more time I am in England the more people come up to me to talk about my family. Now I am older I realise what a big thing it is and what a footballing family I have.”

There is more to come. Maybe not against Azerbaijan on Saturday although Kenny proved with Omobamidele’s introduction in Portugal and sticking with Gavin Bazunu that he is not averse to trusting the rising generation.

Quid pro quo, they might save his job.

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