Mayo's Eoghan Collins inspired by Clare cousins
By John Harrington
Not many people would be capable of taking up competitive hurling at the age of 17 and play for their senior inter-county hurling team a few years later. Then again, not many people have the pedigree of Mayo defender Eoghan Collins.
He’s a first-cousin of Clare dual-star Podge Collins, and shows the same mastery of both GAA codes. A former Mayo minor and U-21 footballer, the 22-year-old now focuses on hurling and will play in Saturday’s Nicky Rackard Cup Final against Armagh.
Eoghan’s father John is a brother of Clare football manager Colm Collins, and moved to Ballyhaunis in Mayo in 1991. Eoghan would have pucked a ball around in his youth with his first cousins, Sean, Podge, and David whenever he visited Cratloe, but he admits his full conversion took a little longer than might have been expected considering the hurling gene in the extended family.
“I suppose I would've been a late bloomer,” said Collins. “I would've started when I was maybe 17 or 18, well 16-17. I suppose when Sean won the U-21 All-Ireland here in 2009 that kinda started me hurling up above and I just kept it on really, you'd be looking up to them, they're going well so you try to emulate them.”
Once he decided to give hurling a proper go himself, Collins made very quick strides thanks to a mixture of natural talent, dedication, and the good example set for him by others in Ballyhaunis.
“Yeah well I would've had the fitness so I suppose then it's just hitting a ball against the wall then every evening or a couple of times a week, you wouldn't be long catching up,” he said. "Then going up to Ballyhaunis senior training and you've the likes of Keith and Pierce Higgins and older lads there, Ballyhaunis would've been doing well at the time winning county finals so you were kind of thrown into the mix and it just started from there really.”
Keith Higgins might be more famous nationally for his exploits with the Mayo footballers, but he’s just as gifted a hurler and will be a crucial man for the Connacht team in Saturday’s Final at Croke Park.
“He's class,” said Collins. “It just comes to him so easy, he could be a couple of weeks, a couple of months out of hurling and he'd pick up a hurl and within three or four days he'd be the most skilful man on the pitch, he'd just get it back in the click of a finger. And then in the football you'd have been looking up to him having played for Mayo for the last ten years so yeah he's some operator. You could throw him in anywhere, the leadership as well, he's been here done it on a lot bigger stages, he says a few words and everyone listens. You take it all in and just try and go out and emulate it really."
In an era when most ‘dual-stars’ have decided to focus on just one sport, Higgins has shown a commendable loyalty to the Mayo hurling cause despite the demands of playing football for one of the most successful counties in the country.
“He always said it was his first love, his father's from Galway and is the club manager at home for the last two or three years,” said Collins. “I think he played here (Croke Park) ten years ago in a Senior B final so when he has the love of it and he comes back in I'm sure the way he is the managers can't really say no to him. He played the first league game against Donegal and he got injured then and he's played all the championship games, he's played the last three championship games.”