At times, it’s easy to forget that it was only at the beginning of this year that restrictions around Covid-19 were lifted, so quickly did things return to normal.
Even now, the 2020 inter-county winter championships, devoid of attendees, feel like a fever dream, with Limerick taking on Waterford in the All-Ireland hurling final in a deserted Croke Park while Dublin did likewise against Mayo in the football.
One of the moments of that football championship was Mark Keane’s late winning goal as Cork secured a first win over Kerry since 2012. It’s a game that Mark Collins, the latest subject in the 20 Questions series, chose as the one he remembers above all others.
“No matter what match we played over the years, we always thought that we were going well and that we were in with a right chance,” he says.
“I became very good friends with Ian Maguire and we used to have a routine where we’d have a coffee the morning of a match before going to meet the bus. I picked him up before the Kerry match in Killarney in 2017 and we were full certain but then afterwards we were wondering if we were deluded.
“To be fair to Ronan McCarthy [Cork manager at the time], he was a massive believer that there was talent in that team. He was fully convinced that the team was good enough to go all the way. He thought that that was in that panel and that probably went through the team. “When the opportunity came against Kerry, the self-belief was there especially as the game went on and we stayed with them. It grew in lads and that meant that we were able to take the opportunity.”
Castlehaven’s Collins scored four points in the 1-12 to 0-13 victory, three of them from frees. Having only featured as a sub against Louth in Cork’s only league match before the championship tie, he wasn’t sure beforehand that he would be selected to start, but was keen to make the most of the chance.
“I came on against Louth and, to be honest, I didn’t think I’d be starting against Kerry because I had very little done with Cian [O’Neill, Cork coach] and that group,” he says.
“I kind of copped it during the week then, with the way that we were setting up in training and that, that it was likely that I would be.
“Cian [O’Neill, Cork coach] was big on Tom O’Sullivan, Gavin White and Paul Murphy – the two wing-backs and the corner-back. Obviously, they do a lot of damage, so myself, Ruairí Deane and John O’Rourke were nearly doing marking jobs when Kerry had the ball. I found myself back very deep at times and that helped me pick up some loose ball.”
Collins kicked the free to tie the game at 0-10 each at the end of normal time.
“There were no dressing rooms or anything, so we were still out on the pitch,” he says.
“With us having got the leveller, the feeling coming in for the team talk was massive. The talk was just about going on and winning it, there was nothing said about opportunities gone or anything.”
That attitude ensured that they were in the game until the very end, the reward coming as Mark Keane won the ball when Luke Connolly’s equaliser attempt fell short, the Mitchelstown man then slotting the ball to the net.
“There were no celebrations afterwards as we couldn’t go anywhere,” he says, “but we drove out that day and there were supporters lined up to cheer us – that was as good a feeling as you’d ever have after a match.
“There were little kids there with flags and it was a crazy situation. Normally, you might meet your parents or family afterwards but obviously none of them were there and you were ringing them. It was weird, but it was class.”
Unfortunately, every silver lining has a dark cloud and the Kerry win can’t be mentioned without the Munster final defeat to Tipperary in the Páirc a fortnight later.
“Because we didn’t go on to beat Tipperary, the shine is taken off the memory of the Kerry match a small bit, to be honest,” Collins says.
“I think the elation of the Kerry game and the buzz, it was very hard to come back down from.
“Tipp weren’t a bad team – we had a good few battles with them over the years and they didn’t fear us at all. We were just as flat as pancakes in the Munster final and it definitely does take away something.”
20 QUESTIONS WITH MARK COLLINS
1. What age are you? 32
2. When did you start playing? With my father in our garden for as long as I can remember
3. What is your favourite venue to compete in? Páirc Uí Rinn
4. What other sports did you play growing up? Hurling, golf, rugby
5. Who were the major influences on your sporting career? My parents
6. Who are your sporting heroes, then and now? Larry Tompkins, Niall Cahalane, Roy Keane, Rory McIlroy
7. Did you have a fork-in-the-road moment where you might have gone a different route? I suppose after minor I concentrated more on football whereas up to that it would been 50/50 with hurling.
8. What was the most memorable game you attended? All-Ireland football final 2010
9. What was your biggest sporting disappointment? 2011 county football final or 2020 Munster football final
10. Who was your toughest opponent? Lee Keegan (Mayo)
11. What are the most important traits in your sport? Hard work and dedication
12. What advice would you give young players starting out? To do that extra bit on your own and to enjoy every minute of it because it goes fast
13. If you could go to any sporting event what would it be? US Masters in Augusta
14. If you could have taken part in any historical sporting event, what would it have been? 1999 Champions League final in the Nou Camp when Manchester United completed the treble
15. What movies and TV shows are you streaming? Currently re-watching Love/Hate
16. What is on your Spotify playlist? Mostly podcasts on my Spotify playlist, Casefile True Crime and the OTB podcasts normally
17. What is your favourite book? Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict
18. Who do you enjoy following on social media? Brian Hurley, always good for an Instagram post
19. What is your cheat meal when you're not training? Partial to a Chinese
20. What are your sporting goals from here? Would love to win another county with Castlehaven