BANDON Grammar School student Mark Collins is training with the Irish senior men’s international hockey team following a meteoric rise through the school, club and provincial ranks.
The 17-year-old Bandon native is no stranger to sporting success. As a member of Bandon Athletic Club he won All-Ireland U14 and U15 shot putt titles. He was also part of the Bandon RFC U16 panel that won an All-Ireland title in 2019. But hockey is the sport in which Collins has excelled.
The fifth year student has already made a name for himself at school, club, provincial and international levels. Collins – along with Karl Smyth, Robert Sweetnam, Ethan Hamilton and Iarlaith O’Neill – are part of a growing number of talented young hockey players emerging from West Cork.
All five were part of the the Munster U18 team that won the 2019 interprovincial hockey championships for the first time in 12 years. All five have gone on to represent their country.
Capped at U16 and U18 international levels, including captaining his country against England, midfielder Collins’ meteoric rise was copper-fastened with a recent call-up to train with an expanded Irish senior men’s international hockey squad that includes the legendary Harte brothers, David and Conor, who also attended Bandon Grammar.
From September to December 2020, Collins was put through his paces by new Irish head coach Mark Tumilty. The former Bandon and current Cork Church of Ireland player relished every minute of the experience.
‘A new crop of young players from around the country, including myself, were invited to train with the Irish senior squad late last year,’ Collins says.
‘We trained throughout the winter months. Mark Tumilty wanted to take a look at the young Irish internationals coming through and brought us all together to train with the current Irish senior players. That meant travelling to the National Sports Campus in Abbottstown, Dublin, most Saturdays or Sundays at the end of last year.’
‘It was a surreal experience. Just the idea of being on the same pitch as some of the players I’d grown up admiring and watching on TV when they represented Ireland at the Olympics was hard to take in. I was in awe of them, to be honest, at the beginning but then you have to knuckle down and just get on with the training.
‘I’m still part of that expanded Irish squad but we had to return to regional training sessions in between lockdowns.’
Collins’ introduction to hockey began when he was seven years old – that’s when he first lined out for Bandon hockey’s underage club. Secondary school saw Collins continue his fledgling career in the colours of Bandon Grammar. Former Irish international Dave Hobbs coached the Bandon youngster during his formative years before Collins joined Cork Church of Ireland hockey club when he turned 16. Provincial appearances dovetailed playing two years for Ireland at U16 level and last year with the Irish U18s.
‘I’ve still a year to go with the U18s but lockdown prevented last year’s European Championships from going ahead in Russia,’ Collins explains.
‘The hope is that the U18 championship tournament might now go ahead in Valencia this summer. That’s all dependent on Covid, obviously. One of my favourite moments representing Ireland was when I captained the U16 international team for a series held over in England.’
On the club front Collins moved from Bandon to Garyduff-based Cork Church of Ireland in Rochestown in 2019. The Bandon native is quick to pay tribute to his hometown club and all the time and effort they put in to coaching him during his grassroots years.
‘I’ve been lucky with all the coaches I’ve had at Bandon, Munster, Ireland and now Cork C of I,’ Collins says.
‘Bandon has always been a great club for nurturing young talent through to the senior adult grades. I owe everything to Bandon because it is where I learned the basic skills of hockey. There is a real community spirit within the club and it is still a fantastic set-up.
‘In school, I was fortunate enough to be picked for the Bandon Grammar senior team when I was in first year. That’s a bit unusual but last year, we (Bandon Grammar) won the Munster Senior Cup. We beat Newtown from Waterford 4-0 in the final. The semi-final was an equally important result for us because it was against Ashton from Cork. That came down to penalty shuttles. I managed to score the winner and we got through to defeat Newtown to win out the competition.’
Living in Bandon with his mother Caroline, father Trevor and sister Kate, Collins is currently recovering from a knee operation but eager to get back playing hockey as soon as it is safe to do so.
‘I’m on the way back from an injury I suffered during lockdown but well on the way to a full recovery,’ Collins says.
‘It meant that I had to have surgery on my knee’s cartilage but thankfully, I’m more or less back to full fitness now and training away normally once again.’
Still 17, and already making headlines, Mark Collins is a name to watch out for in Irish hockey in the years ahead.