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Dublin: 3°C Sunday 28 February 2021

The 28-year-old striker whose Ireland debut was worth the wait

James Collins came off the bench to score against Bulgaria last night.

James Collins celebrates scoring.
James Collins celebrates scoring.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

A DECADE HAS passed since James Collins made his Ireland U21 debut.

The Coventry-born forward, who qualifies to represent the Boys in Green through his parents, was on the books at Aston Villa at the time.

In an ideal world, he would have swiftly progressed to an Irish senior side that was in the early days of the Giovanni Trapattoni era. 

Instead, Collins took a more circuitous route to senior international football.

Loan spells at Darlington and Burton Albion were by followed by his release from Villa in 2011.

Around the same time as Ireland were qualifying for the 2012 Euros, Collins was plying his trade for Shrewsbury Town in League Two, with a relatively modest tally of eight goals in 24 appearances during his first season, as the team reached the play-offs but lost out in the semis to Torquay United. At that point, occasions like last night must have seemed very far off indeed.

Since then, Collins has played for Swindon, Hibernian, Shrewsbury (again), Northampton, Crawley Town and finally Luton.

It has been with the Hatters that Collins’ lower-league career went from solid to spectacular. He is a big reason why they have achieved back-to-back promotions, scoring 47 goals in 92 appearances. This year is his debut season in the Championship — the highest level he has played at so far — and it has begun promisingly, with three goals in six appearances.

Last night, however, must surely be regarded as the pinnacle of his career to date. To score on your debut at international level is not something anyone would forget too quickly.

It was some feeling. When the gaffer told me to get ready, I was buzzing,” says Collins, who replaced Scott Hogan just before the hour mark. “To get on the pitch was amazing and obviously to cap it off with a goal, I couldn’t have dreamt it any better.

“It all happened so quickly, but once it went in, I was just so happy. It was a surreal moment. For me to score at the Aviva in front of all those great fans, it was a really special moment for me.”

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And does Collins feel he may have done enough to persuade McCarthy that he deserves to play some part in the crucial upcoming qualifiers?

“Obviously, that’s down to the gaffer, but the gaffer has told me what he wants from me and I think I managed to do that.

“All I can do now is go back to my club football and keep trying to play well, and we’ll see what happens next month.

“Things when I get home won’t change. I’ll keep training hard and I’ve got a really important game for Luton on Saturday. So there’s no time to rest, and I’ll look forward to going back and competing.”

Jack Byrne, another Ireland player who enjoyed a fine debut off the bench, was similarly ecstatic afterwards.

I was obviously delighted to get out there on the pitch and I’m really proud. It was great to do it in Dublin in front of my family, I’m buzzing.”

In a little over half an hour on the pitch, Byrne made quite an impression. The Shamrock Rovers star produced a perfect corner for Kevin Long to head home, before picking out Enda Stevens’ run, who in turn found Collins to score the third.

“It’s the run that makes the pass, not the pass that makes the run,” he adds. “So I think it’s down to the boys, for their goals, to be fair. We just put it in an area where they could get on it.”

With the warm-up games out of the way, Murray, Bernard and Gavan discuss the renewed cause for optimism, impressive individual player form, and a potential quarter-final versus either South Africa or New Zealand.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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