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*Sean Collins has filled the centre back berth for Clare this year. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

He was still a student at St Caimin’s Community School in Shannon when he joined the county senior football panel but the years have rolled on and now Sean Collins is regarded as one of the most experienced members of the Clare squad.

That was 2008 and the change in how inter-county outfits prepare between then and now is simply earth-shattering. Nutrition, video analysis, lifestyle plus strength and conditioning are earmarked by Sean as particular areas where the shift has been most obvious. “When I started there wasn’t a full-time S&C coach with the team so you wouldn’t have the information about nutrition that we have now, the video analysis and work on opposition teams, the kick outs have changed completely,” he told The Clare Echo.

Subsequently, he is firmly of the view that gaelic football is in a strong footing. “The game is in a really good place and you can see that by going through all the scores from the league, there is a lot of high-scoring and a lot of good attacking play with teams looking to break fast, all of the changes have been very positive, for a young player coming into an inter-county set up, they are getting the best of everything to get the best out of themselves, things have changed and moved on for the better”.

Clare did not compete in the qualifiers for Collins’ first year on the panel and instead were in the Tommy Murphy Cup as they were confined to Division 4 for 2009. In the league just gone, they were one game away from qualifying from Division 1 of the National Football League.

Reasons like this remarkable change in fortunes have led to more people getting behind the footballers. The LIT graduate emphasised the necessity of the senior footballers to be setting a strong example. “The county senior team is the flagship team and it’s important for young players in the county when they’re at U12 and U14 that they have something to aspire from no matter where in the county they are from. It’s important to have the county senior hurling and football teams going well and for things to be done right, there’s high standards there, I definitely think it is in a good place at the moment”.

Reflecting on their recent League bid, the Cratloe man was upbeat. “If you were told at the start of the league that we would get one of the top two spots we would have definitely taken it. There was some great scores put up, the impact from our substitutions and young players coming through on the panel was very positive, a lot of people said the void from Gary (Brennan) and Gordon (Kelly) would affect the team majorly whereas in fairness the young lads have really stepped up and done very well. There was a lot of positives to take from the league, it was a great learning curve as well to be playing against top quality sides like Mayo”.

Their four point loss to Mayo served as an ideal test prior to the championship in helping Clare players “acclimatising to that level, Mayo were in an All-Ireland final last year, they are in the top two in the country so I think a lot of our lads would have learned an awful lot”. These learnings include providing more options for Stephen Ryan’s kickouts as a defensive unit and the concession of scores from turnovers. “The younger players will take great confidence from the last day and the second half performance when we were able to compete with them”.

An All-Ireland winner with the Clare senior hurlers in 2013, Sean has lined out at centre back for the county footballers this year following Aaron Fitzgerald’s defection to the hurling panel. Picking up marquee names such as Aidan O’Shea and Sean O’Shea is a task he has enjoyed, “you want to test yourself against the best players and to have a challenge, that is where you want to be and keep Clare football up against playing these sort of teams, it is a great challenge and something we all look forward to”.

Not alone has his position on the field changed but the Business Development Manager has taken on more of a leadership role within the dressing room especially with assisting new additions. “There is a really good group there at the minute of decent people asides from good footballers, we all try to make everyone feel welcome especially the younger players and in fairness they’ve all settled in fairly well, they have great attitudes and you couldn’t say a bad word about them”.

His first year on the panel saw Kerry end their championship bid in the semi-final stage with no backdoor available to them, the hard-working defender is hopeful the Kingdom will not cause a repeat outcome this Saturday.

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