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'People see I'm tall and assume I am slow and unagile, but I'm comfortable in midfield'

Nathan Collins reflects on his wonder-goal against Ukraine and his early days as a midfielder.

Nathan Collins celebrates his goal.
Nathan Collins celebrates his goal.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IN THE GLARE of the post-game mixed zone lights and the glow of great achievement, Nathan Collins insisted he had watched the goal back only once.

“I’ve been sent it a million times”, smiled Collins. “[My phone] has blown up. It’s smoking.”

No player forgets their first goal for their country, but the quality of Collins’ moment means nobody else will forget it either.

“I like a little mazy run into midfield”, reflected Collins. “I like running with the ball, I like dribbling and I just saw the chance and thought ‘Listen, if I don’t take it now, I never will’. I went for it, it worked out, it came off and it was a goal.”

If you’re wondering why Collins looked so comfortable stepping into midfield for the goal, the clues are found in his youth. He was initially a midfielder, until his father David – and coach at Cherry Orchard – repurposed him as a centre-back when he was 13. “He thought it was the right time.”

“It obviously helped technically-wise but I was training four times a week with matches at weekend”, said Collins of his positional switch. “I had a ball at my feet all the time and I think that what helped me technically, more than anything else. People look at me and see I’m tall and assume I am slow and unagile. That’s the perspective from the outside but I am comfortable in midfield. If someone asked me to play midfield and do a job I’d do my best. Once I am on the pitch I don’t really care. Put me anywhere and I’ll do a job. I am comfortable anywhere. I have done it for Stoke, I even played right wing-back for Stoke. I played every position, I am comfortable in every position.”

There was a subtler positional shift against Ukraine, as he shuffled across to replace the suspended Shane Duffy in the middle of Ireland’s back three. “There’s less running to be fair, more organising. It’s a lot more of a mental game because you’re controlling more players than I would be on the right side. It’s always been an easy side to come in because the players that come in, like Darragh Lenihan and Dara O’Shea, two unbelievable players, who made my life easy.”

So many of Collins’ talents were on display for the goal, including his pace, needed to pilfer the ball ahead of striker Artem Dovbyk in the first place. When asked to rank his speed in the context of the squad, he paused for thought and decided he was among the top seven. Is he the quickest of the defenders?

“I won’t say that”, he laughed. “But maybe.”

Collins was Ireland’s brightest player across the June window and was the only outfield player not to miss a minute of the four games, which is an exhausting coda to an enervating season, which ended in relegation with Burnley.

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Vincent Kompany was announced as the club’s new manager yesterday, though Collins has not yet had a chance to speak with him. He has scoped him out with Josh Cullen, however, who worked with Kompany at Anderlecht.

“I was talking to Josh, messing saying he’s coming back to Burnley with me. Josh said he’s a good man and I’m looking forward to working with him. He’s a natural leader isn’t he? He was a top player and has done it at the top level. He has shown that over many years, and everyone knows how good a manager he is too. He has done a really good job with Anderlecht and I think he is a really top guy, from the outside anyway.”

It remains to be seen how long they will be working together. While the exits of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski leave Collins as the club’s main centre-back, Burnley’s relegation has left the club in financial trouble and Collins is also one of their most saleable assets.

Asked whether he will be at Burnley next season, Collins was non-committal. “Who knows, who knows that question. Who knows where I’ll be in 10 days, I don’t know myself! We will see what happens.”

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from Łódź, Poland

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