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a clare chance Colm Collins on verge of greatest feat with Division 1 in sight for Banner footballers

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On the up: Clare football manager Colm Collins. Photo: Sportsfile

On the up: Clare football manager Colm Collins. Photo: Sportsfile

On the up: Clare football manager Colm Collins. Photo: Sportsfile

It’s amazing to think that the Clare footballers were also-rans in Division 4 when Colm Collins first took charge for the 2014 season.

Just seven years later the Banner are on the verge of a place in the league’s top tier after securing successive wins over Laois and Kildare to open their Division 2 campaign in sensational fashion.

Should they get a win or a draw against Munster rivals Cork on home soil in Cusack Park this Sunday, they would be assured of a semi-final place against either Mayo or Meath with another victory then sending them up to Division 1.

It was generally assumed that they would gradually slip down the pecking order when leaders like Gary Brennan and Gordon Kelly called time on their inter-county careers over the winter, but Collins continues to make fools of those looking into crystal balls.

With key forward Jamie Malone also missing the bulk of the league with a hamstring injury picked up in the opening minutes against Laois, it was simply a case of next man up with Collins placing faith in newcomers like Joe McGinn and Daniel Walsh to step up to the plate.

“At some stage we had to replace these players and it’s just an opportunity for these younger guys coming up. What we’re finding now is some of the young guys are stepping up to the plate as leaders and they’re developing now,” he told The Backdoor GAA podcast recently.

“It might take a little while but there’s a lot of very talented young fellas in Clare and now some of them are going to get the opportunity, I think they’ll grasp it.”

Currently the longest-serving football manager of the same county – Mickey Harte had 18 seasons with Tyrone before moving on to Louth this year – Collins has continued to defy the critics in a low-key manner.

Football is the poor relation in Clare given that their hurlers landed All-Ireland SHC honours as recently as 2013 but that’s not something you will hear the Cratloe native say as he just gets on with the task at hand.

When a negative narrative dominated the off-season talk in Clare with ongoing questions over the quality of the Clare Centre of Excellence in Caherlohan, Collins was quick to pour cold water on any concerns from his end.

Having often had to scour the county for pitches to train when involved at underage level, there would be no fuss coming from his direction and he was just keen to resume training and get back doing what he does best.

“Our pitch is perfect, absolutely perfect. At the start of last year, we rested it and only trained on it one day a week and last winter it was perfect,” Collins said of the facility which they use as their base.

He always makes the most out of the hand which is dealt and consistency has underpinned his eight seasons in charge as they look set to retain their Division 2 status for the fifth consecutive year.

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They have been among the favourites to be relegated in each of those years but odds matter little to Collins as he continues to build the firmest foundations and thrive off limited resources.

For all that he has achieved to date – including a rare All-Ireland quarter-final appearance in 2016 – promotion to Division 1 would be the pinnacle and rank as one of the most impressive managerial feats in recent times.

You wouldn’t put it past him either.

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