There was a time when 28-year old Luton striker James Collins thought he would never don the green of Ireland again.
Twelve caps and three goals at U21s level, Collins has not played for his country since 2012 as a part of Noel King’s side. Since then he has been plying his craft in the lower leagues of England, scoring regularly but failing to garner any real attention at international level.
In the 2017/2018 season, he moved to Luton Town and his 19 goals fired them into League One. A year later he’s doing the same, but this time one division higher as the Hatters sit on the brink of back to back promotions, thanks in no small part to Collins’ exploits in front of goal.
Almost seven years on from his last cap, his rich vein of goalscoring form has seen him make Mick McCarthy’s first 23-man squad for the Euro qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia.
Speaking to media after his first training session with the senior Irish squad, Collins outlined that when he first heard the news of the call-up he still wasn’t confident of making the final 23-man squad.
“I heard about the provisional squad a couple of weeks back but I didn’t really get my hopes up because I knew the squad was going to get cut and then when news came through last Thursday that I’d made it I was delighted it’s a real honour.”
Eyebrows had been raised over Collins’ selection given the level at which the 28-year old is playing at.
The striker outlined that before his call-up he too had preconceived ideas about a certain level you had to be at to play for the senior squad but explained that a rich vein of form, no matter the league, does wonders for a players confidence in front of goal.
“Yeah definitely,” said Collins when asked if he felt an international call-up was beyond his reach.
“I was always realistic to think that you had to play at a certain level to play for the senior squad, the calibre of strikers that Ireland have had over the years, I thought I’d have to be in the Championship or above. I’ve had to work my way up from the bottom and I’m really fortunate that the gaffer has given me a chance this year being in League One.
“I think if you’re scoring goals and you’re confident, you can only play against the teams in front of you. It’s good to be scoring goals, if I manage to get any minutes in this camp and a chance comes, I’m confident that I’ll score.”
Ireland trained for the first time as a squad under Mick McCarthy at Abbotstown on Monday and Collins explained that before his maiden session with the senior squad, the nerves were running understandably high.
“I was nervous yeah. I was nervous yesterday meeting all the boys but the lads have been great. I know a lot of them from my time with the 21s. They’ve all made me feel really welcome.
“Going into today’s session it was nice to be out on the grass with all the lads and the calibre of player that is in the squad.”