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‘I could step in and find that pass’ – Collins says it’s not just on the forwards to create chances



There was a moment during the first-half against Ukraine when Nathan Collins broke out of defence with the ball, passed it on and continued his run forward until he ended up in an area normally occupied by the number 10.

None of the visitors picked him up. They probably weren’t expecting Ireland’s young defensive colossus to loiter so far up the pitch.

Apparently, nor did any of Collins’ teammates, as his pleas for the ball went unheeded.

And so as the attack switched out to the left, he made his way back towards his own goal.

It’s not the first time in his burgeoning international career that Collins has displayed an instinct and willingness to get forward.

There were moments against Armenia and Lithuania when he advanced with purpose.

Clearly, there is more to Collins than meets the eye.

He has the height and build of a no-nonsense, rough-and-tumble centre-half.

But then there is a level of comfort on the ball that shows his footballing brain isn’t just hard-wired for tackles, blocks and clearances.

Stephen Kenny spoke yesterday about Collins’ versatility when he said: “We’ve seen his flexibility at Stoke playing centre back, right centre back and right back.”

But could the 21-year-old one day add defensive midfield to his CV, as Paul McGrath sometimes did when he pulled on the green jersey?

Is Collins the man to ultimately fill the role that was once earmarked for Declan Rice – a midfielder who could easily slot in at centre-half – before he switched countries?

When Kenny has a full complement of centre-halves to choose from, including Collins’ fellow Leixlip native Andrew Omobamidele, is this the answer to that particular dilemma?

It’s a position in which there are plenty of options, including Omobamidele when fit, Dara O’Shea, Shane Duffy, John Egan, Darragh Lenihan and Jimmy Dunne.

Seamus Coleman can also slot into the right side of a three-man central defence.

And don’t forget the players coming through at Under-21 level.

Mark McGuinness and Eiran Cashin both played plenty of football last season at Championship level at Cardiff City and Derby County respectively.

Regardless of which position that Collins makes his own – or whether he spends his career bouncing from one to another – he won’t be held back.

There will be moments in games when you’ll see him advancing with the ball before laying it off, you’ll take your eyes off him for a few moments and next thing he’ll be deep in opposition territory.

He scored two Premier League goals in 19 appearances last season, against Everton and Southampton.

And it’s almost certain that he will become as big a goal threat for the Boys in Green as his international teammate Duffy.

Collins is eager to contribute. Yesterday, he spoke about his desire to be as effective in the attacking half as in Ireland’s defensive territory.

Whether it’s scoring them or making them, he feels there is an obligation to help out in the final third.

He agreed with observations made by Chiedozie Ogbene and Jason Knight, after the Armenia and Ukraine defeats respectively, that Ireland needed to move the ball quicker in attack.

But he added that the responsibility for that didn’t lie solely with the attacking members of Kenny’s side.

“It’s easy to say that sometimes,” he said. “We control the ball a lot, when teams sit against us it’s hard to move it and break down a team.

“We’re also missing maybe in the final third, we lack that end product, but that can also come from a defender. I could step in and find that pass or someone else.

“But as a team I think overall we know what we’re missing, it’s that bit of end product and we need to find it.”

It’s been a disappointing week so far for Ireland. Suddenly, hopes of winning the group have turned into fears of relegation to League C.

At the same time, Collins has been praised for his performances in the narrow defeats to Armenia and Ukraine.

“On a personal note I think I have done alright,” he said, but added that he could still do better.

“I watched back my games and I looked at what I can improve on, and there is still a lot to go.

“I’ve done my job at some part, but overall we’ve still conceded two goals in two games, so maybe I can help out the team a little more to help prevent them.

“If we didn’t concede two goals, we wouldn’t have lost two games so that can be the difference.

“As much as people are giving me praise, I still think I can do a lot better, and improve a lot, and I prefer to win, really.”

Looking ahead to this evening’s clash with Scotland, Collins knows what’s at stake.

“I think every game of football is a must-win. I don’t see how you would go into a game without that mentality,” he said.

“Every game I play I want to win, it’s a must win. When I go in with that mentality, I play my best football.

“So as a player, as a team, we all know it’s a must-win, but so do Armenia and Ukraine so nothing really changes.

“We know we’ve got a job to do and that’s go out and win a game of football.”

Don’t be surprised if it’s the Burnley man who pops up with some crucial moments today – at both ends of the pitch.

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