Colm Collins has now been a senior intercounty football manager for longer than any other manager — apart from two others.
The company is good: those two are Jim Gavin and Mickey Harte, and Collins characteristically brushes away comparisons (“Stop — look at what they’ve won”).
Clare’s consistency and quality are hallmarks of the Collins regime, however.
They relegated Tipperary last spring to Division 3 of the National League in a spirited fightback in Thurles, and asked Kerry plenty of questions in the Munster Championship.
Little wonder Collins will retain that bainisteoir bib for 2020 — his seventh season at the helm.
“We got a really good group together last year,” he says.
“The existing group was very good and then Declan O’Keeffe came on board — a tonic — and Brian Carson came on, so we had a really good set-up with everyone working well together and there was no negative stuff. It was really enjoyable.
“Now, there were games in the league we weren’t too happy about, but once we got that victory in Thurles, it was great. Results-wise you always want to do better, of course, but it was a very enjoyable year.
That word, ‘enjoyable’— how significant an element is that?
“It’s huge. I’ll never forget being involved with a group in Cratloe years ago, U8 or so, and they were quite talented, but what I mainly remember is that I couldn’t wait to go down and train them, it was so enjoyable.
"You contrast that with another group you might have, where there’s a few lads acting the fool or are only there because their pals are there, and being there is like pulling teeth.
“It’s a great compliment to the (Clare) players that people would want to stay working with them for so long they’re a great group, great lads who’ll do what they say. I don’t have to spend my time putting out fires with them.
"That’s the key point, the fact that people want to work with them and have worked with them for so long. We’ve had lads come in and out, but the core group of players have been there a long time.”
The new voices are another significant component. The turnover in Clare means there’s always been a freshness.
“What happened with backroom teams was first we had Paudie Kissane, who was excellent, I had immense time for him and he did a great job,” says Collins.
“After a year he went on his own journey and we were sorry to see him go. After him we had Ephie (Fitzgerald), another new voice, and again he decided to go after a year; after him Mick Bohan, another new voice, another year — understandably, it was a long trek from Dublin to Clare for him and it was a loyalty to his family’s links to Clare that he did it in the first place.
“Alan Flynn did a couple of years, another fresh voice, and last year we had Declan (Downes) and Brian (Carson).
“You see it at club level, how a new voice brings in a freshness.
“I’m generally slow to mention names but Rob (Mulcahy) our strength and conditioning coach is another huge asset. The old saying that you’re either filling the bucket or emptying it applies here, and they’re filling the bucket every time — I don’t have to ring them to say this has to be done or that has to be done.
"They’re the ones ringing me to say they’re doing those things, rather than the other way around. They’re excellent.”
The recent specialisation in strength and conditioning doesn’t surprise Collins:
“In our time playing, if someone wasn’t involved in sport they probably didn’t do anything that active. That’s not the case nowadays.
"So it’s no surprise things changed in that regard. When I was playing, you ran for three-quarters of an hour and kicked the ball for half an hour, but eventually someone came along and said: ‘You don’t have to run around for 45 minutes, there’s a more efficient way’.
"And now players are looking at the fine margins, just getting that last few ounces out of themselves, the smallest bit extra that will get you over the line, so when you can get a good S & C guy, you hang on to him.”
Collins points to a simple metric for judging a quality physical trainer.
“Can you keep your main players on the pitch? That’s the question. Last year we had very few soft-tissue injuries, and that’s to the credit of Rob and our physio, Sean O’Meara.
"If a player gets burst in a game, if he breaks a shoulder or a leg, there’s nothing you can do about it, and those kinds of injuries can happen in a collision at any time. But soft-tissue injuries from lads over-training, or training when they’re a bit tired, we didn’t have those.
"So that was a huge advantage to us late in the season, because we were picking from a full deck, and that’s traditionally a problem for counties which don’t have a huge panel.”
Speaking of counties with a huge panel... “Dublin did a few things last weekend I haven’t seen before. At the end, I think they took four shots from outside their normal scoring zone, which is something they’d never usually do.
They’re always patient and can get the ball to the shooter, and to me, Dean Rock is a guy I’d want to have on the ball at all costs when the game turns like that. To me, I would have thought (Michael) Fitzsimons was a better fit to mark (David) Clifford as well, but that’s looking from outside.
“You’d have to say they have been great champions — with 42 minutes to go they had a man sent off, but they still managed a draw and had a chance to win the match.
“They pretty much owned the last 10 minutes of that game despite everything, which was some achievement.”