They say talent is never enough in football. On route to the top you also need some luck, dedication and focus, football is a cut throat industry at the end of the day. One man who can testify to this is Dublin native Mikey Collins. The former Liverpool FC Irishman has experienced a lot of highs and lows in his football career to date, we caught up with him recently to talk about a football journey that has taken him to England, Italy and Cyprus to name but a few destinations.
Mickey's story began at Dublin schoolboy club Cherry Orchard. A keen footballer who was always supported and encouraged by his father, his talent was very evident from an early age. Technically gifted and with a real footballing intelligence it was little wonder Collins attracted interest from a host of English clubs before eventually deciding to sign with Liverpool Football Club. The nimble midfielder who is also effective up front would go on to be capped 24 times for the Rep of Ireland from U15's right the way through to U21's.
1. Mikey, tell us about the move to Liverpool, how did it all come about?
I was playing for my schoolboy club Cherry Orchard at the time. I was grateful to have a number of offers on the table before deciding upon the move to Liverpool. Middlesbrough, Glasgow Celtic, Manchester city, Chelsea and Ipswich Town had all expressed an interest to sign me, I actually came very close to signing for Ipswich before the Liverpool interest arose. I went over for my first trial at Liverpool when I was fourteen years old, the trial went really well and over the course of the next year I was over back and fourth to the club to play in some games and take part in training sessions.
Steve Heighway was the academy director for Liverpool back then, I can remember the day he flew over and called to my house to meet my dad, I was offered a one year youth contract and a two year pro contract for when I turned sixteen, it was an offer I was delighted with and didn't hesitate to sign, Steve Heighway is a great man, he was always very good to me.
2. Tell us about Liverpool, what was it like playing for their academy?
Liverpool was brilliant! From day one the people, the city, the club, facilities, absolutely everything about the place, I loved it. Playing for the academy was amazing, I played in the U18's league against clubs like Manchester United and Manchester City. My first year was very memorable, I played a part in the FA Youth Cup success that season, we went on to beat Manchester United in the final, it's always nice to get one over on them, to do it as a fan who plays for your club, that made it that extra bit special.
3. People tell stories of various reasons that led to your departure from Liverpool, what's the truth behind it?, in your opinion what led to the decision to part ways and would you change anything looking back on your time at the club?
Looking back on it, when Steve Heighway left at the end of my first season at the club I think that was the beginning of the end. Steve was replaced by a Dutch coach by the name of Peit Hamburg. From day one I just got a vibe, it's just one of those things, football is a game of opinions, I could sense Peit didn't take a shine to me as a footballer. I remember being called to his office following his second training session with the group, he told me I wasn't quick enough to play for the club. If I'm honest I didn't help my cause, I just found his training methods strange and I let him know that on a couple of occasions, it was a poor immature reaction but back then I was just a kid.
I remember joining the academy and everything being based around the Liverpool philosophy of pass and move possession football, most training session were based around that under Steve Heighway, the final third of the pitch was when you were encouraged to take people on. Under Peit Hamburg all that changed, I remember one training session we played an 11 aside game amongst ourself's and he insisted upon a rule that you had to beat a player before you could make a pass, it was a first for me, his football methods were so strange in my opinion. In spite of my thoughts I kept training and got on with it. A Swedish club by the name of Enköping approached Liverpool about taking me on loan, I went over and trained but it never felt right so I ended up turning that opportunity away.
When I decided to leave Liverpool it was my dad who flew over to meet with the club officials and an agreement was reached that I would be paid out for the remainder of my professional contract, people may say you should have stuck it out but in reality I could not see myself having a future at the club with Peit in charge, game time was very important at that stage of my development and I wasn't going to get enough of that. As it transpires Peit was sacked by the club nine months later, the news was not surprising when I received it. Do I have any regrets from my time at the club? yes, looking back I defiantly do have some regrets. To be honest I never gave myself a chance because I did let myself down at times off the pitch. It's not easy for a kid who didn't have much growing up to all of a sudden be making a bundle of money at a very young age, I guess I didn't cope with that aswell as I should have, I didn't deal with it and it effected me off the pitch.
4. You were a part of a very successful Rep of Ireland U17's group (the class of 2007). When you look at how people like James McCarthy from that same group went on to become a senior international and establish himself as a high profile Premier League footballer do you ever wonder what if?
Yea our U17's at the time were very good. It's funny you mention James, I still remember the first game I played alongside him was vs Greece in the U17's European Championships, we won the game 2-0 and he got one of the goals that day. Back then everyone used to talk about him, being honest at the time I would have never foreseen the success he would go on to achieve, it's fair to say he proved me wrong! He is a top class footballer, his work rate is so impressive, he dominates most Premier League game I watch him play in. You have to take your hat off to him, I wish him continued success in his career.
Do I ever wonder what if? yes everyday, I get up to go to work and sit on that Luas and it often crosses my mind, what if! I'm glad I had a crack at it and not many can say that. I'm proud of the clubs I have had the opportunity to play for and honored to have represented my Country at Youth level.
5. Your uncle David Collins was also on the books of Liverpool, how good was he and how much of a help was he when you were starting out?
Yea Davey signed a long time ago, Graeme Souness let him go and he ended up signing for Oxford United in the old first division, my dad tells me he was a brilliant centre half who played alongside Roy Keane in the Rep of Ireland U21 set up. The biggest influence on my career though is my dad, growing up he never missed one game and always supported me throughout. If it wasn't for my dad I wouldn't have got the opportunity to go away, he was the one that introduced me to the game when I was a kid, I have so much respect for him. Davey was brilliant for advice and to be honest my whole family have always supported me. My dad and a couple of my uncles actually work within the game to this day so they've been great to me.
6. OK so your time at Liverpool came to an end Mikey, you find yourself back in Ireland on the verge of signing for then League of Ireland Champions Bohemians Football Club, all of a sudden late offers come in from Falkirk, Leeds United, Enkoping and Italian Serie B side Triestina. You chose to sign for Triestina and move to Italy, why did you feel that was the right move at the time?
My uncle Eamonn is a football agent and he has got connection's here in Ireland and abroad. He rang Nutsy (Pat Fenlon, manager of Bohemians at the time) to see would he allow me train with Bohs. In the meantime I got a call from an agent in England who had got word I was no longer at Liverpool, he asked if I'd be interested in coming onboard with him, he told me that he would be able to secure a trial at an Italian club. That's how the initial trial to Triestina eventually materialized, the two week trial went really well for me and I was offered a deal at the end of it.
I felt that Italian football would suit my game. I'm a flair player, in England, Scotland and Ireland there is a greater emphasis on the physical aspects of the game, I didn't think that style of football suited me.
7. Your one from a rare list of Irish exports to Italy following in the footsteps of Robbie Keane, Liam Brady and Ronnie O'Brien to name a few, what was the Italian experience like?
Italy was a very good experience. It was strange at times, before games players would smoke, I initially thought it was a wind up, after games I couldn't get my head around that ha, oh and the wine with their dinner in the evening? overall it was an amazing experience and something I'll never forget. Pre season over there was the toughest I've ever done, they bring you to a little village up in the mountains and literally make you run uphills, that training persists for 2/3 weeks straight, come the start of the season I was wrecked. I'll always be grateful to Triestina, I think I improved a lot out there, especially being in among first team players at the football club.
8. A year on and a move to APE Pitsilia in the Cypriot Second Division. How did that that move come about?
I left Triestina on bad terms, I was having problems with my wages being paid. My agent at the time had links in Asia, Greece, Australia and Cyprus. My agent got in touch Steve Constantine (now Indian national team manager), Steve was managing APE Pitsilia at the time and he decided he would offer me a trial. I went over for two weeks and played in four friendly matches. I done really well in the games and by the final day of my two week trial I was called into Steve's office. It was good news, he offered me a two year deal beginning at the start of the new season, a few months later I was flying back over to Cyprus to begin pre season.
9. You featured regularly in Cyprus, what was the experience there like?
Under Mellos, a Cypriot coach at the club I played 29 games out of a possible 34 which was brilliant, he took a bit of a shine to me so that always helps. Cyprus is brilliant for football they are fanatical over there, it's all they talk about day in day out. The fans are amazing, the Cypriot people in general are just great and then of course the weather is always a nice bonus. I have great memories from my time there and still have great friends I've kept in touch with, it's a shame I was very unlucky having to undergo a kidney operation whilst I was there, that really set me back.
10. Eventually a return home to Ireland, all of sudden you find yourself playing amateur football and having to find full time employment, why do think you ended up back in amateur football in Ireland?
Towards the end of my second year in Cyprus I had to have that kidney operation. It put me out for nine months and I had already been six months waiting to have the operation. I returned to Ireland and didn't play for a long time as I recovered, I also came really disillusioned with the game even when I did recover, I joined local teams and played with friends, it was only really when I decided to sign for St Francis Football club, a team with a great history and superb facilities that I start getting the hunger back, there was great management in place and I started enjoying my football again.
11. Now days your 25 years old, and having spent time at various amateur clubs back in Ireland you find yourself back were it all began at Cherry Orchard Football Club. This season you've hit the ground running, recently scoring 5 goals in one game? By all accounts your getting back to your best and have put aside fitness issues that have hampered you in recent years, is the hunger back Mikey?
I started off with Cherry Orchard way back at the age of six and now I find my myself back at the club that I made a name with. Our manager Declan Heavy was the reason I signed, he's a top class coach and a great man manager, you could talk to him about anything, his back room team is first class and then you have the players, I no a lot of them and most of them are all Orchard men that have been with them since schoolboy. I get on very well with them on and off pitch so that's a big plus. This pre season was my first proper pre season in quite some time, I trained as hard as I ever have before and I really think that's paying off, it's still early days but yes I do feel the hunger is back, I'm happy now and back really enjoying my football, it's a long time since I could say that. Honestly my fitness has been terrible the past three years, but now it's different, I'm fit again and that's what's doing it for me at the minute.
12. What does the future hold in store for Mikey Collins? Will Cherry Orchard once again be the club that helps you go on to a higher level?
I'm happy to be back playing at the club I love. I'm working now and happy where I am at home so I can't see myself leaving. I'd happily finish at this club with a few medals and helping to bring the club back to where it belongs at the top of Intermediate football in Ireland, that said never say never, this is the first time I've felt as good in years so who knows what could happen, for now I'm just focused on giving my all for Cherry Orchard Football Club.