Nathan Collins pictured at Friday's press conference. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

'I took the positives out of it' - Nathan Collins on being dropped by Wolves

The Irish defender has had a tough time at club level but is determined to come back stronger.

IRELAND INTERNATIONAL Nathan Collins is refusing to get too downhearted after a recent spell out of the Wolves team.

After impressing with Burnley in the Premier League last season, the Leixlip native joined the Molineux outfit for a fee of £20.5 million (€23 million) — an all-time record transfer fee for an Irish player.

Collins garnered acclaim for his performances early on but has fallen out of favour since the arrival of new boss Julen Lopetegui, with the more experienced January signing from West Ham, Craig Dawson, taking his place in the starting XI.

The 21-year-old is still expected to feature for Ireland in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier at home to France on Monday. 

While Wednesday’s encounter with Latvia was Collins’ first start since 22 January against Man City, he insists his recent lack of game time won’t be an issue.

“I’m fit and raring to go. I look after myself. If I’m not playing, I still do the right things… I’m in the gym. When you’re not in the team, you get to work on different things you can’t work on when you’re in the team. I took the positives out of it, I made the best out of it and I worked on what I needed to work on.

“I’ve been here before, to be fair. There have been spells that I haven’t played. I’ve a good background behind me looking after me and keeping me well. Me, my family, and everyone behind me, we’re strong, we’re willing to go work hard again and get back into the team. That’s what I’m about, that’s who I am, and that’s my personality. There are ups and downs. As I say, don’t get too high, and don’t get too low. It is what it is.”

Collins says Lopetegui didn’t give any specific criticism or reason for taking him out of the starting XI following the 3-0 loss to Pep Guardiola’s side.

“He didn’t say any reason or certain reason why. He just wanted to change it up, which is not a problem. He just said keep working hard and I’ll get my chance soon, so that’s all I can do in the meantime.”

The last club match he started saw Collins come up against arguably the best striker in the world, Erling Haaland (who hit a hat-trick in the game), while he will almost certainly face the other obvious contender for that mantle, Kylian Mbappe, on Monday.

“Probably no one is as quick as Mbappe, but obviously, there are a few [with similarly electric pace]. Even here, the likes of Chio [Ogbene] and Michael [Obafemi]. I’ve played against plenty of quick players even before I started professional football. He has a lot more to his game than just speed, that’s the problem, you can’t just worry about his speed. But we’ve taken that into account.

“I have to be smarter to get him. He’s going to be quicker. I’m not stubborn enough to say I’m quicker than him. He’s going to be quicker than me so I have to read the game better.”

Given the stakes, there is a strong case to be made that Monday’s France encounter will be the biggest game of Collins’ career thus far, as it probably will be for a number of the Irish performers involved. But the centre-back is not giving too much thought to the enormity of the occasion.

“If you build it up too much, you could be in trouble. You’ll get to the emotions, I’m just treating it as another game. We all want to go on the same routines and when it comes to it, it’s what you want to do as a kid. You want to play against the best in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really excited, I can’t wait to go, but right now, I’m keeping myself controlled and calm and just looking after myself.”

It’s nearly a year since Collins truly announced himself on the international scene with a stunning solo goal during a 1-1 Nations League draw with Ukraine.

Owing to that moment, the hype went into overdrive as the defender was very much portrayed as the future of Irish football. Evan Ferguson is garnering similar excitement and accolades now after his goalscoring debut against Latvia, so does Collins have any advice for the Brighton teenager?

“I’m not really on social media. I don’t see a lot and try to stay away as much as possible. I know Evan, I’ve talked to him a lot. He has a good head on his shoulders. He’s a good lad, he’s humble, he’s down to earth, and he has a lot about him. It won’t affect him at all.”

Lining up alongside Collins in a three-man defence on Monday will likely be Dara O’Shea.

The 24-year-old was ruled out for an extended period after suffering a fractured angle during Ireland’s match away to Portugal in their last qualifying campaign.

But the Dubliner has come back strongly since then, playing every minute for West Brom this season in addition to regaining his place in Stephen Kenny’s side despite fierce competition for the centre-back slots.

At Friday’s media day, Baggies and Ireland teammate Jayson Molumby paid tribute to O’Shea’s resilience.

“He’s been unbelievable, to be honest, he’s a really good friend of mine, I was able to relate a lot when he was out with his injury, he felt comfortable speaking to me about different things as he knew I could relate when other lads probably couldn’t relate to being out for so long.

“When he got given the captain’s armband at West Brom we were in a bit of a sticky situation, the fans were a bit upset, the club was in a bit of a poor position so for him to take that pressure with the performances he has, to lead us as he has done, it’s a credit to him hats off to him, I love playing with him.

“I feel we rub off well on each other, he’s a cool, calmer head and I am a bit of a not-so-cool and calm head. He’s a good guy.”

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