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Irish Cup Final - Glentoran v Portadown: Ronnie's men must seize trophy chance, says Michael Collins

Ex-Ports star insists players are judged by medal collection

By Stuart McKinley

Published 02/05/2015

Golden memories: Michael Collins in his Ports heyday
Golden memories: Michael Collins in his Ports heyday
Medal of honour: Michael Collins shows off his Irish Cup winner’s medal with Portadown from 2005

For more or less his entire Irish League career, Michael Collins was the man opposition fans loved to hate.

Everywhere he went the former Cliftonville and Portadown midfielder was jeered and barracked by rival supporters.

As someone who struggled to stay away from controversy and out of Irish FA disciplinary hearings after repeated spats with officialdom, many saw him as just a hardman and an easy target - although delve deeper and there is much more to one of the local game's most well known characters.

At times, however, he did react to the abuse and bit back.

On one infamous occasion, Collins stuck two fingers on each hand up at the Glentoran fans as he left the pitch at The Oval after being sent off.

It wasn't so much a love-hate relationship that he had with the Glens fans, the contempt was mutual.

That won't stop Collins from returning to The Oval today.

He'll be among a 3,000-strong band of Portadown supporters, a number of whom are work colleagues, hoping to cheer their team on to Irish Cup glory against the Glens.

Collins, who was in the Ports team the last time they lifted the trophy back in 2005, would love to be in the thick of another battle with the east Belfast side.

"I'd give my right arm to play in this match," he said.

"These are the matches that I loved - big rivals, a big crowd, a big atmosphere and a cup to win."

The Ports fans would probably love to have him in their team too. Secretly, many Glentoran supporters would feel the same. You see, Collins was that type of player. One you'd love to have in your team, but if he's not then he's a hate figure.

Never did that, or the abuse that was aimed in his direction, bother him.

"I loved it and I fed off it," said Collins.

"I think their fans thought that if they could wind me up I would crack and get sent off, but it had the opposite effect.

"It motivated me because I knew if they were throwing abuse at me I'd got under their skin and if I'd got under their skin I'd got under the players' skin as well.

"Every time we went to The Oval, or Windsor Park too, I knew that if we started well the fans would turn on them and start to get on their backs and that would wipe out the home advantage.

"That's what Portadown have to do on Saturday."

Collins has clear memories of his Irish Cup battles with the Glens. They are among the most memorable matches of his career - partly because they were the ones he wanted to win more than any other due to the rivalry that existed between the teams at that time.

"I always wanted to beat Glentoran," said Collins.

"We lost one semi-final when Vinny Arkins was sent off, but other than that I had a good record against them in the Irish Cup and we'd some great wins.

"There were two quarter-final replays, both at Shamrock Park. In one we were 3-1 down and after Cullen Feeney was sent-off one of their players shouted, 'right, let's open the gates on them'. When I heard that I thought, 'I'm not losing this game'.

"A couple of minutes later I cleared one off the line and then we nicked a goal.

"We got another one and then right at the death Keith O'Hara - who hardly ever scored - bombed up the left wing and cracked one in from about 25 yards to win the match.

"There was another one that went to penalties. I wanted to take one, but Ronnie McFall wouldn't let me.

"My best Irish Cup memory against Glentoran was in the semi-final 10 years ago - that went to a replay too.

"I remember telling Marc McCann to keep making the runs in behind their defence and I would find him.

"Towards the end of the game I spotted him and there wasn't much room to get the ball through, but I got it to him and he had the pace to run through and score the winner."

That ultimately led to Collins - who had lost the 1997 final with Cliftonville - getting his hands on the Irish Cup for the one and only time and that's why he is urging McFall's current crop of players to take their chance.

"Medals are hard to come by, so you can't let these games pass you by," said Collins.

"You can get paid all the money you like for playing football, but it's medals that count - that's what people judge you on as a player, not the size of your wage packet.

"I never talked about money or what I got paid, but I tell everyone about the medals that I won."

One person who Collins has been telling all about his medal collection is current Ports defender Garry Breen - who he also works alongside in his job with the David Jameson Group.

A large number of the company's employees are Ports fans, making Collins a popular figure.

"One of the lads, Ally Rainey, didn't believe it when he was told I was going to be working with him," said Collins.

"He'd grown up watching me playing for Portadown and when he saw me walking on to the site let's just say he got a bit over excited."

Belfast Telegraph

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