Neill Collins has always subscribed to the notion that actions, especially in the ruthless world of professional football, speak much louder than words, writes James Shield.
But, after hearing some of the more fanciful theories behind his absence from Sheffield United’s first team squad, the centre-half last night decided to speak-out.
Yes, Collins admitted, watching matches unfold from the stands rather than helping to dictate them is a painful experience. But no, he told The Star ahead of Saturday’s League One encounter against Oldham Athletic, nothing untoward has gone on.
“I’m experienced enough and I’ve seen this happen many times during the course of my career,” Collins explained. “Sometimes players who have been long-standing members of the team get left-out and, although people come up with all sorts of explanations as to why it happens, what is usually the case is that it’s just how things go.
“This is one of those situations but, because of the number of people who have been asking, I wanted to make that plain. I don’t like to hear that I’ve been unprofessional or anything like that so it’s important to set the record straight.”
Collins has started 177 games since joining United from Leeds nearly four years ago. But, after making a brief cameo appearance towards the end of last month’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie at Hartlepool, has failed to trouble the team sheet since with Jay McEveley, Chris Basham and Paddy McCarthy all preferred at the heart of defence.
“I’m very determined to regain my place and get back in,” Collins continued. “I can’t train any harder because I’ve always given 100 per cent but I’m doing extra fitness work and making sure that I’m completely and utterly focused.
“When I’m not with the first team, then I’ve been getting out there with the under-18’s and the under-21’s. Making sure that I’m in the best shape and condition I can possibly be and ready to answer the call if it comes.”
Collins, who also represented the likes of Sunderland and Wolverhampton Wanderers before arriving at Bramall Lane, insisted United are well-equipped to regain their Championship status after climbing to fifth in the table following last weekend’s victory over Doncaster Rovers. However, despite being unable to influence events on the pitch, the 31-year-old Scot is still contributing behind the scenes.
“I’ve done some coaching with the academy,” Collins said. “I’ve got my ‘A’ and ‘B’ licences and, as a senior pro’, I’ve got a responsibility to set a good example for the younger lads and help them as well.
“That’s what the likes of Gary Breen and Jody Craddock always did for me.
“We’ve been so close to getting out of this division before,” Collins added. “But, with the players we’ve got, I think this is our best opportunity.”