Mikey Collins continued a family dynasty when he signed for Liverpool. What happened next?

“Football is engrained in me and that won’t change, it feels part of our family. Yeah, it can be ruthless but that’s part of the story.”

Mikey Collins during his Liverpool days.
Mikey Collins during his Liverpool days.
Image: EMPICS Sport


But not for Mikey Collins.

There is no conceit, just a feeling of contentment.

He beams brightly when he gets a chance to speak about his family, football, and the experiences both have brought.

He fell out of the game in his early 20s in the same way so many others do but, as he prepares to turn 32 next month, there is no resentment or bitterness regarding the various circumstances which conspired to make his brief journey a battle.

It’s one which began at the age of 11 when he went on his first trial with Manchester City in a tournament in Italy, and ended when he played in the Dutch third tier at 24.

Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Celtic, Ipswich Town, Portsmouth and Middlesbrough had all offered contracts in his early teens.

But Liverpool felt like home.

michael-collins Source: James Crombie/INPHO

That is who he agreed to sign for just after they lifted the European Cup in 2005. Academy director Steve Heighway and coach Karl Robinson came to the family home in Clondalkin, west Dublin, to offer a deal.

It’s one which quickly unravelled as the common brutalities of the professional game became clearer.

There were attempts at salvation in Sweden, Italy, Cyprus and the Netherlands.

A kidney operation helped hasten his exit, but that was not the sole reason.

There was no one deadly blow, more weariness by a thousand cuts.

They are the kind of experiences that so many promising young footballers face.

There were only so many blows to take, only so long Collins could maintain his resolve.

Eventually it was broken and time to move on.

Not that it’s a game he can ever leave behind.

“No chance. I still wake up every day and think ‘football, football, football’. I live next door to my Da and that’s what we talk about. I go and watch my nephew Brody play for Shamrock Rovers and love to see him enjoy himself on the pitch.

“Sure I took my holidays from work with Irish Rail so I could be watching the World Cup now, and sure it was moved to the winter!” he laughs.

“It’s probably six or seven years since I was a professional. That time goes very quick. I’ll be honest, you don’t feel it go.”


The name Collins has been on everyone’s lips in Irish football for much of this month.

Nathan’s emergence on the international scene during the four Nations League games was eye-catching, and that was even before his sensational solo goal against Ukraine capped off a most impressive window.

His Ireland performances came on the back of fine individual displays for Burnley, despite their relegation from the Premier League, and Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers are two of the clubs vying for his signature.

Mikey’s voice crackles with enthusiasm when it comes to his younger cousin.

“What Nathan is doing is not a surprise to anyone in the family because he has had such a good head on his shoulders and been doing all the things you need to do from a young age,” he explains.

“Even now, he doesn’t drink, he eats right, he gets his rest. He’s doing exactly what is needed to have a career in the modern game. And it’s a great thing for the family that he went on and got that senior Ireland cap because it was the only one we were missing.”

image0 (8) Nathan Collins (aged 12) with cousin Brody. Source: Mikey Collins.

He’s not wrong.

Nathan may be the man of the moment but Collins is a name that has been a staple of the game in this country since the 1950s.

Their grandfather, Michael Collins, lifted the FAI Cup with Transport in 1950, and had three sons – Mick, David and Eamonn.

Mick is Mikey’s father and played for St Patrick’s Athletic and Dundalk before spending the best part of the last 20 years as a scout for Manchester City.

“He actually tried to get Nathan over there after doing well at the Kennedy Cup,” he explains.

David, Nathan’s father, was signed by Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool in the late 1980s before being released and joining Oxford United. He returned to the League of Ireland with Shelbourne and then oversaw his son’s team with Cherry Orchard.

Eamonn, who is now Nathan’s agent, became the youngest player to play in English professional football when he lined out for Alan Ball’s Blackpool against Kilmarnock in an Anglo-Scottish cup tie six weeks before his 15th birthday in 1980.

image0 (7) Mikey (left), Brody (centre) and Mick (right).

He was later involved with Shels and managed St Patrick’s Athletic.

“You want the rest of the family tree?” Mikey laughs. “There’s my other cousins Joe and Cian. Me and Joe got an Ireland Under-16 cap in the same game when he was at Portsmouth. Cian played a bit for Shamrock Rovers when he was younger.

“There’s Nathan and his brother Josh, who played for UCD and then Waterford. My three sisters (twin Amy, Sharleen and Eimear) aren’t into football but are mad for the Irish dancing.”

Collins had quick feet too, a nimble No.10 with an eye for a killer pass and goal.

From the age of 11 to 13 his options across the water were plentiful. Scoring for fun with Cherry Orchard meant the invites to train at clubs were constant. Once he hit his teens Liverpool took pole position.

Heighway was the academy boss and the former Ireland international made sure there was constant dialogue. He was the one who offered the deal, one year as a youth scholar with two as a professional.

Collins broke into the Under-18s’ squad for their FA Youth Cup run during his first year on Merseyside. Only 16, he was involved until the quarter-final stage.

Then I got bombed out for the semi-final and final,” he laughs. “That was to be expected, though, I was only in the door at the club. But I loved it. It was about thinking quick and moving the ball quick. It was a good environment to learn the game.”

Collins celebrated the two-legged final win over Manchester United at Old Trafford, with Jay Spearing lifting the trophy. He was close with players like Martin Kelly and Stephen Darby, the latter who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2018.

Their only worry a decade earlier was making their way in the game, a challenge which became even tougher when Heighway was axed as part of the club’s restructuring of the academy.

Two months into Collins’ second season – his first as a pro – changes swept through almost overnight.

“Heighway was gone just like that, coaches and staff who had been there for 15, 20 years were gone. Even cleaning ladies were getting the bullet!”

Dutchman Piet Hamberg was installed as Heighway’s successor and that’s when problems began to fester.

“Before it was all pass, pass, pass. Move the ball quickly and keep it sharp. It was different after that. He [Hamberg] didn’t want us to pass as much, we had to take players on and beat them. I’ll be honest, that is not what I was good at. I tried to move the ball quickly.”

soccer-fa-youth-cup-final-second-leg-manchester-united-v-liverpool-old-trafford Collins (third right) celebrates the 2007 FA Youth Cup win. Source: Tony Marshall

A year and a half into a three-year deal, a two-week trial with Swedish side Enköpings led to an offer of a loan deal.

“I was 17 around that time, my gut was telling me it wasn’t for me. I just didn’t like it there.”

He returned to Merseyside where, at his behest, negotiations began over terminating his stay.

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But why, especially given the years spent travelling back and forth to Merseyside to earn his chance at a professional contract that still had more than 12 months to go.

“There were loads of meetings about it. I wasn’t enjoying the training, that had been the one part of life there that I was most comfortable with and then that was gone.

I knew it was a case of the club going a different way and they didn’t want me. It’s tough to take but that’s football, it’s tough but you have to accept it and try to move on and prove yourself.

“I felt I was young enough and good enough to get a chance somewhere else – I felt I had time on my side.”

So began a nomadic existence the majority in football can relate to in order to eke out a living.

First stop, Serie B side Triestina, based in the north east of Italy around 60km from the border with Slovenia.

“An agent with contacts in Italy brought us there. It was great for the first couple months, training with the first team and playing for reserves, but not long after we stopped getting paid. We had no money.”

Collins travelled there in 2008 with fellow Ireland underage international Conor McCormack, the midfielder having just been released by Manchester United.

They lived together, attempted to learn the language, but when the money dried up Collins needed to end his one-year deal early.

“Wigan had been in for me at Liverpool but I knew that wasn’t the kind of place where I could get in. I wasn’t physical enough to go there or up in Scotland. That’s the truth, I was a more technical player and didn’t have the physical side at that stage.”

Cyprus was another avenue to examine in 2010 when former Milwall first-team coach Stephen Constantine called after taking charge of APEP in the Second Division.

conor-mccormack Conor McCormack (now with Galway United) lived with Collins in Italy. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Another trial resulted in the offer of a two-year contract. A few months in, Constantine (who has had two stints as manager of India), departed. Collins had found his feet, and form, by the end of his first season.

“I came back for the second year full of confidence, we went for a six-week training camp and I was in constant pain. Every time I went to the toilet there was blood in my urine. I wasn’t eating. This was going on for weeks.

“There was back and forth with the club to get an operation. It was severe kidney stones and I needed shockwave treatment to sort it out. Football was the least of my worries at this point. It was hard to do anything.

After a couple of months I finally had the operation out there. Then I was back to where I was living with three of the lads on the team who were still going in training every day. I had to stay in bed.

“I had to go home at that stage to recover and it took another eight months to feel right. By that stage we kind of just mutually agreed to leave the club. It’s another blow you have to take, of course it’s hard, but at that point I was just glad to not feel pain.”

And his form in Cyprus did at least lead to his sole Under-21 cap, completing the underage set and bringing his total appearances from the age of 15 upwards to 24.

It was while recovering at home in Dublin when Pat Devlin called.

Another opportunity.

Another country.

“This time it was Holland, I just thought ‘why not?’ Let’s give it another go.”

image1 (3) Mikey with his nephew Brody. Source: Mikey Collins.

RKSV Leonidas were the club and, based near Rotterdam, it was another adventure with lasted a year.

“After that I was ready to come. To be honest with you, I wasn’t the most dedicated at that stage. When I was home in Dublin I was happy to go out and enjoy myself. I kind of fell in and out of playing then too.

“I applied for the job with Irish Rail, I got that and then your priorities in life change. That’s how things go, there’s no point being angry or hating football because things didn’t work out perfectly.

“Football is engrained in me and that won’t change, it feels part of our family. Yeah, it can be ruthless but that’s part of the story.”

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