As debuts go, Patrick Collins’ was impressive.
The full range of goal-keeping qualities were on display against Kilkenny at Páirc Ui Rinn: Assured handling, well worked and well struck puck-outs,an immaculate first-touch and smart, accurate distribution in broken play.
One particular drilled delivery to Lisgoold’s John Cronin even led to Cork’s first goal. There were two Kilkenny goals but then again, there always are, and there was nothing more that could have been done about either.
Collins’ performance was all the more impressive considering the nature of the game: Kilkenny, under lights, a big crowd and an intensity that gave a lie to the time of year. There was an authority to Patrick’s play that belied his 19 years.
And then there was the final act. As Lester Ryan opened up his shoulders in the middle of the pitch, searching for his fourth point, Bill Cooper must have been nervous. But then it dropped short.
The Ballinhassig man gathered it and strangely, considering the nature of the game, found himself with time and space. Those watching on the television then saw the ball sail into John Power’s hand. He, in turn, did what was necessary and plundered the victory for Kilkenny. However, that angle did a disservice to the young goalie. I was behind the goal and what the camera didn’t show was Luke O’Farrell sprinting into space 30 yards beyond Power. Patrick did the right thing. Had he struck it a small bit higher, the victory might have been Cork’s and it would have been a perfect night’s work.
Johan Cruyff once said that ‘football was a game of mistakes’. So is hurling.
Patrick was unfortunate against Kilkenny in that his sole mistake came at the moment of highest drama. Had it happened in the first- half, chances are, it would have been forgotten.
Such is life. What’s always interesting, however, is how people react to their mistakes.
Those who know him won’t be surprised that Collins’ reaction was as quick and positive as his reflexes. As he retreated back into his goal he looked nothing but calm. There was no banging of the hurley, no throwing the head back, no betrayal of any emotion whatsoever. He simply got on with the job. There would have been a temptation to banish the resultant puck-out as far as he could. But no, he again sought to do the right thing, as he always does. His short puck-out found its mark but then, alas, time ran out.
As I walked out of Páirc Uí Rinn, disappointment with the result, I was dissipated by the whispers I heard from the crowd about his performance. It was clear he made a mark. But he’s been doing that for a while now. Keen hurling followers in Cork will know a bit about his rise. At just 16, he was thrust into the Cork minor team and performed excellently for three years despite the disappointing results.
In his final year at minor in 2014, he also made his bow with the U21s. Cork shocked a highly-fancied Waterford team in Walsh Park and Patrick was central to that win, particularly in the first half when he kept Cork in the game. The final that followed was a chastening experience as the all-conquering Clare team packed out Ennis for their coronation. They were duly crowned but again, Patrick did well in challenging circumstances. He still has two years left to seek a change of fortune.
Last month, he got a first taste of glory when he was a key component in the Cork IT team that won the All-Ireland Freshers title. Remarkably, this was the third such medal to make its way into the Collins household, his elder brothers, Matthew and Michael, previously having annexed titles with UCC. It doesn’t stop there either. His sister, Catriona, is an accomplished camogie player while his younger brother, Ger, is another name to keep an eye out for. His father, Pat, was an able goalkeeper too. It must have been quite the back garden in Briar Hill.
Not content with being a top class goalkeeper, Patrick has also shown himself to be an accomplished forward. In Ballinhassig, we’ve seen some stellar performances from him over the last couple of years, both as a minor and in the adult set-up. He has a particular talent for scoring goals, lots of goals, and is very strong in the air. It must make life under that dropping ball that bit easier, not that it’s ever easy. It was a similar story on the school scene as he helped bring Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh to the cusp of success a couple of times.
While his Cork senior debut had the crowd, the intensity and the atmosphere, his second appearance couldn’t have been more different. A lethargic, listless Cork team flirted with annihilation against Tipperary in Thurles.
In many ways it was a much bigger challenge for him. It didn’t faze him at all. He saw the whites of Seamus Callanan’s eyes and stood tall and showed the same traits that he did against Kilkenny. What was most impressive, however, was his courage. Astonishingly he had to puck the ball out 45 times. 45! It would have been easy to go safe but Patrick treated every one of them the same way, trying to give the advantage to his team-mates. It was a terrific display of maturity.
It’s already an impressive story but Patrick won’t be caught up in it. Like in the Kilkenny game, he’ll always be looking forward, looking for that next ball, striving to improve. It’s a mantra that served a recent Cork goalie well enough.
Gach uile liathróid.
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