Matt is keeping the Collins clan goalie flame burning with Kilmacud Crokes
FORMER Cork underage hurler Matt Collins is established in the Dublin club scene.
A secondary school teacher in Terenure College, in south Dublin, Collins transferred from his home club, Ballinhassig, to Kilmacud Crokes at the beginning of the last decade. While Cuala have been dominant within the county in recent years, he did collect senior championship titles with the Stillorgan men in both 2012 and 2014.
Collins has spotted similarities between the distinctly urban Crokes and the more rural Ballinhassig.
“The similarities are that you’ve people who love to be involved in your local area and want to make the experience for young people in that area a little bit better. There’s a culture of competitiveness and there’s a strong culture of Irish in Crokes. I’m an Irish teacher and there’s a great link with Colaiste Eoin, and there is an Irish-language community part of the club,” Collins says.
“Irish would be spoken, depending on who is involved. Our current manager, Aodan De Paor, would only speak Irish to a good few members of the team. It’s a dual-language club. That was something that attracted me to it as well.”
Since representing the Leesiders as a goalkeeper at the minor, U21, and intermediate grades, Collins’s younger brothers, Patrick and Ger, have followed in his footsteps.
The former is the understudy of Anthony Nash on the Cork senior panel, whereas the latter was the last line of defence for the county’s All-Ireland minor hurling final reversal to Galway in 2017.
Additionally, their sister, Caitriona, scored 1-6 when the Rebelettes captured the All-Ireland intermediate camogie crown in 2018. Yet for Collins, what was expected of him during his time in the Cork ranks bears no relation to what is being asked of the current crop of inter-county prospects.
“There were no development squads at that point; they were just inter-county teams. I wish I knew then what I know now. I see the difference between what it is now and even what it was then. Even from a minor perspective, I see it with my own family being involved. What’s expected, in terms of time and non-pitch activity to play at that level, is remarkable,” Collins says.
“I’m not sure who demands that. Is it players or is it coaches who are being paid? Really enjoyed my time [with Cork]. Got to play with really good players. Didn’t win an All-Ireland, but enjoyed it. Was really proud to represent my club in that situation as well.”
Indeed, Collins donned the number-one shirt when Cork claimed Munster minor hurling championship honours at Tipperary’s expense in 2006. Played as a curtain-raiser to the senior provincial decider between the same two counties at Semple Stadium, the Rebels triumphed with the help of goals from Robert White and future All-Ireland-winning footballer Colm O’Neill.
A certain Glen Rovers prodigy by the name of Patrick Horgan also contributed seven points, as Cork eased into the All-Ireland series with a 2-20 to 1-15 win. Long before ‘Hoggie’ became his county’s all-time leading championship scorer, Collins recognised that he was a force to be reckoned with.
“We were the same age the whole way up. It was interesting: Himself and Colm O’Neill were two inside forwards for the team I would have played on. Colm O’Neill was a gifted hurler as well, but Hoggie was a little bit different.
“He had that Glen Rovers spirit or that real confidence in his own ability. He was just so talented. I see it in school now. I see students who are gifted musicians or gifted at maths. This guy, his gift was hurling. I’m happy to have seen him up close,” Collins says.
The Ballinhassig native has watched on with interest as inter-county players and managers — both past and present — have pleaded with the association to reopen club grounds across the country.
A ‘Return to Play’ roadmap has now been put in place by the GAA, but they will continue to seek guidance from the Irish government in the coming weeks and months.
“In terms of the pecking order, you realise sport is important, but it’s definitely not more important than family or health. During this time, what interested me is there has been a plethora of inter-county managers, former players, and [current] players coming out saying, ‘GAA pitches must open’. All that kind of stuff,” Collins says.
“To me, if you’re an inter-county manager or if you’re a player, you’re in no way qualified to give your opinion as to whether or not pitches should be opened; or whether or not the inter-county season should go ahead.
“You’re a manager of a sports team and there’s a place for people just to listen and adhere to the people that are being paid well enough to look after us.
“That’s kind of my take on it: To listen and to heed the advice. I’m not qualified to give a position as to whether GAA clubs should open pitches or not. That’s for someone who is earning 10 times what I earn and whose job it is to keep us safe,” Collins says.