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Friday 30 September 2016

There is a life outside the GAA bubble

Galway hurler David Collins at the launch of the A Menarini ‘Get Breathless for COPD’ Cycle: INPHO/James Crombie
Galway hurler David Collins at the launch of the A Menarini ‘Get Breathless for COPD’ Cycle: INPHO/James Crombie

The pros and cons of inter-county 'life'. David Collins reckons he wouldn't have the working career he enjoys today but for his other career as a Galway hurler. It has opened doors and given him confidence to grow as a person.

And yet there was a time when hurling consumed every thought, every decision, to the detriment of family and friends. "I was being an absolute tool to them," he admits.

Experience, especially a long injury hell that gave him pause for reflection, has helped the Hewlett-Packard employee to recalibrate his work/life/play balance.

His two years as GPA secretary - from late 2013 until last November - offered further insight into the importance of player welfare, off the field, not just on it.

And that's why he urges Croke Park to strike a new deal "fairly lively" with the players' body. "They are taking in money and I think it has to be given back to the GPA or to the players specifically for development programmes, campaigns and all that kind of thing," he argues.

TRAGIC

Moreover, as a member of the Galway hurling family, Collins is painfully aware of the issue of mental health following the tragic death of his team-mate, Niall Donohue, in October 2013.

Afterwards he got involved in Jigsaw, a confidential support service for young people in Galway. "That allowed me to understand what certain players are going through, and certain youths," he explains.

"As a GAA player your profile is high because you're there so long or whatever. But it's what you can give back to the community as well.

"And in Galway it's essential. Galway is a small place. The death of Niall was massive in our team, and I think it still reverberates throughout the whole team whenever someone gets a number five jersey.

"It's crucial that the GPA is there and that people outside of the sport, supporters specifically, are aware that players' lives are on hold to play hurling and football.

"They're not there to be put up on pedestals, to be criticised or abused. They go out there to wear the jersey with pride and passion and do everything for the cause without having to be criticised.

Galway’s David Collins: Sportsfile
Galway’s David Collins: Sportsfile

"Yeah, we're up there to be criticised. That's fair enough if you have a bad game. But if you miss a ball or you miss a score, so be it. Move on. Next ball, you know? And that's what's key. Sports psychologists will tell you it's the next ball, next ball, next ball."

Collins has been a Galway senior since 2004. Recently he has grown accustomed to a new role - that of impact sub, such as in last year's All-Ireland final defeat to Kilkenny.

As another SHC campaign starting with a Leinster trek to Westmeath on Sunday week beckons, he has no yearning for retirement ... "as long as injuries stay away and the management want me."

And yet, perversely, he says his most famous war wound (the ankle-threatening ankle injury that surfaced in 2007) has prolonged his career.

Citing Johnny Glynn's decision to swap the Galway dressing-room for New York, Collins explains: "You have to live your life outside of hurling. My own example, I hurled all the way until I got injured. I missed 19 or 20 months and I was thinking 'Right, there is a life outside of GAA and I need to start realising that'.

"And once I realised, it was 80pc hurling and 20pc life. I kept it in the background but I was always 100pc committed in terms of hurling.

"Johnny Glynn and these boys have to go and live and experience things, or they won't be the people they want to be and they'll have regrets."

But what if he'd never crippled his ankle?

"I'd be gone. I wouldn't be still hurling because I was so engrossed in hurling at the time. It was my life," he recounts. "And then once I got injured, the support of my family and friends was massive and you're thinking 'Jesus, these people are still here for me even though I was being an absolute tool to them and being unfair and expecting everything from them'."

PRESSURES

The GPA, he concludes, have a "crucial" role to play here. "You see the amount of mental issues that are there. Players dropping out of the game because they can't cope with the pressures that are external to those that the actual management are putting on players," he explains.

"It's not about being professional or anything like that, but it is about looking after the welfare of players off the field."

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