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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 19 February, 2019
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'That's something people can get lost in... at the end of the day it is our hobby'

Dublin star Niamh Collins leads a busy life, both on and off the pitch.

NIAMH COLLIN’S EARLIEST memory of Gaelic football from her childhood is going to watch the 2003 All-Ireland ladies final between Dublin and Mayo.

DW6I1155 Niamh Collins. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Heartbreak was the resounding feeling at the final whistle as Mick Bohan’s side were beaten at the death by a late, late goal and the wait for a first senior title lived on.

“Being honest when I was younger, I was entirely fixated on the Dublin ladies,” she smiles as she looks back through the years, “they were what drove me on.”

Her dream was to wear that coveted Sky Blue jersey and represent her county.

Fast forward 15 years or so, and Collins is one of the stars of the Dublin show, a core member of the defence with back-to-back All-Ireland titles, six Leinster crowns and a Division 1 league medal to her name. And after a long time away, Bohan is her manager with everything coming full circle.

26-years-old now and widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the country at the minute, Collins was one of those kids that tried their hand at everything and anything when it came to sport. Tennis, hockey, swimming, basketball; she gave everything a go but football was the one that always stuck.

Those trips to Croke Park most definitely would have impacted that, she says, as well as her obsession with the Dublin ladies team.

“Things like that drew me towards the game,” she tells The42. “The players and people. Like Angie [McNally] then coming back and coaching me through UCD and for a couple of years with Fox-Cab would have had a massive impact.

“These are people that we watched as kids who are then coaching you. It all filters through at the end.”

DW6I1264 At the eir sport launch day, Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

As the 20×20 campaign’s slogan reads: if she can’t see, she can’t be. Niamh Collins saw, and now she is.

It’s been no easy ride for the Foxrock-Cabinteely star though, that said. While the past two years on the inter-county scene have brought nothing but success, there were plenty of days to forget in the years that preceded. 

Gut-wrenching, narrow losses to Cork at HQ in 2014, 2015 and 2016 are the ones that surely stand out, as well as disappointing defeats with her club. With four in-a-row Dublin and Leinster titles under their belts, Fox-Cab have been so close but yet so far in the All-Ireland series over the past few years.

December’s decider loss to Mourneabbey in Parnell Park was another tough one to take, compounding the hurt of their 2016 defeat.

“Yeah,” she sighs. “It’s something I have a lot of experience in with Dublin and then with Fox-Cab and it’s something that you never ever ever get used to.

“To come pretty much to the top of the mountain just to fall off before you get to the top is really just a stomach-dropping feeling. But at the end of the day, Mourneabbey were deserved winners of that match and as tough as it was to accept the result, it is what it is.”

She’s sensible and mature as she speaks of that day, and how the Cork kingpins had suffered similar cruel fate before, on their own journey to the top of the mountain. Everything went to plan for them from the get-go that day and while conditions meant it was “like running up a mountain on a treadmill going the other way,” that wasn’t the deciding factor.

Performance was.

Niamh Collins dejected Dejection after the 2016 All-Ireland final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We’ve really left our mark on Dublin and Leinster in particular: four in-a-row in Leinster, which is phenomenal,” she adds. “It’s really shown what we can do there. 

“There’s no more motivation to rally and to go again than to lose an All-Ireland final. You might think it can knock you down — and it does a little bit — but it just makes you want it even more.”

Her positivity shines through constantly as she maps out the past few years though. The good memories outweigh the bad, and that’s a fact.

“When I’ve looked back over the last five years, you do acutely remember the losses, but so much less than you remember the wins. 2017 and 2018 [All-Ireland wins] were by far the most vivid in my mind and will stay with me for much longer.

“You remember the happy things definitely, a lot more than you do the sad,” she beams. “It’s a great feeling to get out there and to be representing your county in an All-Ireland final. While you might not remember it crystal clear, you also never forget it.”

Another monumental feat Collins has achieved in her career is the 2016 O’Connor Cup title. She was pivotal as her UCD side lifted the silverware to end a 10-year drought, in a season in which she played 180 minutes of All-Ireland finals between club, college and county.

Collins studied Electronic Engineering at the Belfield university back then and went on to work for Hailo — now mytaxi — full time. She’s there a day-and-a-half a week now, but she’s back in UCD, studying a Masters in Smurfit Graduate Business School for the year.

The obvious line of conversation is football. We’ll get to the education after.

“Back playing with my college team!” she grins. “Weirdly, yeah, a lot of the team are still around. Considering I was on the older end of the scale when we won the O’Connor Cup and have been gone for two years, there’s probably still five or six of them on the panel.

Niamh Collins Lining out with Fox-Cab in December. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“It’s kind of like I’ve gone back in time; Martha Byrne, Molly Lambe, Nicola Ward; they’re still there so it’ll be another great year, hopefully,” she adds, as they hope to capitalise on their league win before Christmas come championship time.

“I really never thought I’d be back playing college football. It is a nice surprise to have come back around.”

The Masters itself is in Business Analytics, full-time from September to September, with the summer months pretty much project-based meaning she can use her time wisely around other commitments.

“I’m lucky enough I’m from the area around Smurfit College so I’m still able to work a day-and-a-half a week and then I’m in college three or four days a week. Football is my other second job on top of that,” she jokes.

“It’s great though, I really love it. I was working in a role similar in mytaxi but I felt that a Masters is par in that industry so I went back to get a bit more formal education. I do really enjoy it. It’s tough going but it’s great craic.

“It’s keeping me on my toes. It’s a lot of work but sure, it’ll be worth it.”

With college football finishing up in March, she’ll be freed up a little more, and able to focus most of her football commitments on Dublin then.

Balance is a world that’s often thrown around in sports journalism and that question of how people do it all is asked time and time again. And, yes here we go once more — it’s an absolute necessity to hear how Collins finds it at this stage.

“It can be challenging,” she admits. “With work, you can learn to balance but with a Masters, it’s kind of one where you don’t really get used to that workload.

Aine McDonagh with Niamh Collins Facing Galway in the league. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“Obviously I’m sitting exams as well so there definitely were some challenging moments last semester; playing UCD, playing Fox-Cab and still trying to study for my exams. It’s a year of your life so you learn to manage.

“To be honest, sport has never been like going to work or anything. I need exercise to study. If I was cooked up sitting at a desk all day, I’d go mad. I think they go hand-in-hand. I don’t see it as an extra thing I have to do, I see it as something I need to do.”

And then of course, football is a pastime after all.

“Ah it’s a hobby,” she nods. “I think that’s something people can get lost in as well. Inter-county is a lot of commitment and so are all of those things that come with it, but at the end of the day it is our hobby. It’s what we choose to do and not what we have to do.”

With the Lidl Ladies National League just around the corner, Collins is more than excited to be back despite the short break after the club scene finished up.

“You do get an itch just to go back and I’m definitely looking forward to it,” she says, noting that the whole set-up are on a high after a skiing holiday over New Years.

She missed out, unfortunately, as she was skiing herself the following week and couldn’t manage two weeks in-a-row, but was happy to report that her side escaped pretty much unscathed — just one collarbone break to factor in, but that could be worse.

2018 brought the Jackies’ first Division 1 league win and Collins feels that winning the All-Ireland the previous September helped. It was a monkey off their back, and they just hit the ground running once again.

Cork v Dublin - TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Final Celebrating the 2018 (7) win with Sinead Finnegan and Amy Connolly. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

“We went out and we put on a good show and that’s what I hope we’ll do again this year,” she continues, relishing opening their campaign in Croke Park against Donegal as part of a highly-anticipated double-header on 2 February.

“The Donegal girls are fast and strong. It’s definitely going to be a shock to the system in the first round but that’s exactly what you want. You want to have a competitive league straight away.”

With Bohan at the helm once again having committed for a new two-year term in November, and the core group going again, the continuity is key as the ball starts rolling once again,

“What Mick has built with us — that obviously started with Greg in the years previous — it’s a special relationship we have with that management,” says.

“We get on really well with them, the dynamic has worked really, really well. Mick himself is a Dub and there is nothing like representing your own county. [We're] absolutely delighted that the management have stayed on.”

And the group of players, the Blues Sisters? “We’re as close off the pitch as on the pitch and that’s what makes the difference. The things we do together off is what makes it gel on the pitch.

“Without a doubt, they’re the people you see most in your life, probably more than your own family. We’re lucky. The fact that we’re from Dublin, the capital city, means that not many people have to travel outside. We’re all living and staying here, we’re all close to each other, there’s a great dynamic within the team.”

And that dynamic is sure to be key as they go into 2019 defending three titles.

But the big talking point is can they do three in-a-row?

Sinead Aherne, Tarah O’Sullivan, Niamh Collins, Deirdre Murphy and Noelle Healy celebrate Celebrating the 2018 win. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It’s not something Collins has been thinking about, she concludes: “Just because you won last year doesn’t mean anything,” she smiles, not giving anything away.

2018 is in the past. 

2019 is a new year.

****

eir sport have today announced details of its Allianz Leagues coverage for 2019, while also confirming it will broadcast two games from the Lidl Ladies National Football League. In total eir sport will broadcast fifteen live games in the coming months with up to three live matches available to GAA fans some weekends. The coverage begins on January 26th on the home of live GAA on Saturday nights under lights. 

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Emma Duffy

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