It's been a long year for Podge Collins. In May of last year he crumpled to the ground, screaming in pain. It would mark the beginning of an arduous and lonely road for Collins as he spent day after day by himself in the gym of his club Cratloe, with normally only his dog and his thoughts for company.
Collins, who is preparing himself to face Limerick for the Clare footballers this weekend in the Gaelic Grounds before picking up his hurl to represent the Banner's hurlers against Waterford a week later, admits that he went through some dark times when laid low by the injury.
I was in a low enough place. When you're playing, and your career is so short-and it's getting shorter the way the GAA is going-every year in your early twenties you want to be playing because you feel like you're in peak physical condition and to miss nine months, a whole year, was disappointing...there's points there you would be low enough about it.
The popular 2013 Allstar forward provoked much chatter in forums, pubs and terraces by choosing the Clare footballers over the hurlers for the 2015 season after being issued an ultimatum by hurling boss Davy Fitzgerald: give us your sole attention, or none. Collins chose none. Now Fitzgerald seems to have relented somewhat and the two are reunited in pursuit of Liam McCarthy, but Collins wouldn’t be drawn on a direct response when we asked him which side made the first move in reconciliation:
There was a lot of things going on like, I was taking to a lot of people and trying to get back into it, so I was just delighted it happened... I was always on about coming back so I was just delighted to be given the opportunity. Thankfully it's gone well so far and we'll see how it goes for the rest of the year and I'll re-evaluate at the end of the year because it is a tough thing to do.
But while he remains coy about whether it was he or the senior hurling management who initiated his return into the fold, Collins bears no grudges against Fitzgerald for holding the proverbial gun to his head in 2014.
You could see completely where management would be coming from...because the demands are so high, to perform at your best you want to be focused on the one because the sports are completely different at the end of the day.
Watching the up-close-and-personal documentary on Collins and his comeback from injury (set to be broadcast on UTV Ireland this Monday 30th May at 8pm), one is struck by his Herculean willpower and ability to put his body through sweat and suffering to get himself back on the pitch. Both elucidate how deeply he loves gaelic games and explain how hard he found being absent:
While you're playing you see lads take a step back and go on a holiday or a J1 or something like that and you're going, 'Oh, that's something I always would love to have done.' But actually being out then, watching on, is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.
But there is always a sense of perspective to be found. An injury on a sports field can be a severe, though normally temporary, blow. As Collins explains to us, however, he never viewed it as anything more than that. Even immediately after the injury, at his lowest point, Collins saw the bigger picture.
It is a part of sport and I was very accepting of it so when people were texting me I was texting them back, 'Ah, there’s bigger problems in the world, don’t be panicking about this. When you hear about kids sick in hospital. (Being with Clare) you do get to come up and meet these kids here in Dublin (who are) sick, and that's serious problems. That's real issues. Parents will have to deal with that.
Doing your cruciate, a lot of the time I'd text them back, like, 'Will you stop, I'll be back next year!' Not to worry about it. People were very good but like I said it wasn't that big a deal and I’m delighted to be back playing.
Podge is back. Clare fans of both codes will be thankful for that.