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Mark Collins

Mark Collins

Mark Collins: 'It's time we started performing'

By John Harrington

Cork’s inability to translate consistent underage success into senior achievement is one of the great mysteries of the game.

They have been hugely dominant in Munster at U-21 level in recent times, winning 10 of the last 12 provincial titles in the grade, but in the same period have won just four senior provincial titles.

They enjoyed a record 2-24 to 0-9 victory over Kerry in the 2011 Munster Final, and yet Kerry have produced more successful senior footballers from that crop than Cork have. Kerry players like James O’Donoghue, Billy John Keane, Paul Geaney, Stephen O’Brien, Peter Crowley, Jonathan Lyne, Brian Kelly, Mark Griffin, and Jack Sherwood have all since won All-Ireland senior medals, and yet at U-21 level they were made to look second-rate by Cork.

Mark Collins was one of the stars of that 2011 Cork U-21 team, but has no easy answer why that generation of Cork footballers have failed to show the same progression.

“Probably not. A lot of the Cork teams on that team have come through to the senior panel and we probably haven’t kicked on like we should have,” he admitted. “We are at an age now, that U21 team now are 26, and there are a few of us still around so it is time we started performing. We have been around long enough that we can consider ourselves senior members of the team.”

You never know quite what to expect from Cork. They clearly have plenty of raw talent, but also the wherewithal to slump to disastrous defeats. Last year’s Championship campaign provided the perfect illustration. They should have beaten Kerry in the drawn Munster Final, but then after losing the replay were hammered by Kildare in the All-Ireland Qualifiers.

There is loads of potential in that Cork team. Loads of kick passers. You can play good attractive football with this Cork team and be successful with it.

Their fragility was exposed once again in the League this year when Roscommon defeated them by 18 points.

“They (those defeats) are unexplainable really,” says Collins. “They are massive disappointments and it is how our team has been perceived, that we have these defeats in us, but we have put a lot of good performances together as a panel over the last few years as well. We know there is a bit of potential in us.

“Roscommon were unbelievable that day and we were as bad as you could possibly imagine but it kind of steadied the ship and focuses us and since then there has been an awful lot of positives in our group. We have gone forward from there.

“We have new management in this year and when they came in they looked to play a bit of free-flowing football. The way Roscommon turned out it might have scared us a bit and we had to go a bit more defensive but there is loads of potential in that Cork team. Loads of kick passers. You can play good attractive football with this Cork team and be successful with it.”

Once again this year Cork produced a very talented Munster Championship winning U-21 team that has already provided new recruits for the senior side. Peter Kelleher, in particular, looks like he could provide Cork with a new dimension thanks to his ball-winning ability in the full-forward line and eye for a goal.

“Yeah, something completely different,” says Collins. “Other teams had that over the last few years. Kerry had Donaghy and Donegal had Murphy. It’s a target man and its probably something that is needed in the modern game. Hopefully Peter can add that to us this year.

“At underage all these players who are coming through, have had success, so hopefully we can build on that and there might be a bit of silverware on the way.

“We’ve blooded a lot of the younger fellas in the league again this year. It is exciting that these U21s are coming in to our panel now and we are looking to see if they can improve us. Hopefully they will make a big impact this summer.”

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