Neill Collins interview: Barnsley FC head coach and former Leeds United and Sheffield United defender on Roy Keane, Joe Cole, Oakwell pain and supporting your local team

ANYONE who confronts Roy Keane has a bit of something about them.

Neill Collins did as a young player and earned the respect of one of the most demanding and intense individuals in football - who it is not exactly easy to impress - in the process. The respect was reciprocated.

In his early utterances with the press, Barnsley's new manager has shown himself to be a thoughtful and calm figure but clearly an ambitious one.

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Born in the Ayrshire coastal town of Troon he may be, but he possesses the steel more associated with Lanarkshire a little further to the east.

Barnsley head coach and former Leeds United and Sheffield United defender Neill Collins. Picture courtesy of Barnsley FC.Barnsley head coach and former Leeds United and Sheffield United defender Neill Collins. Picture courtesy of Barnsley FC.
Barnsley head coach and former Leeds United and Sheffield United defender Neill Collins. Picture courtesy of Barnsley FC.

Resolve in terms of not going through the conventional and - often cosseted - route of club academies into professional football. He picked himself up after being released by boyhood club Kilmarnock in his early teens.

Collins - who has always insisted he was born to coach as opposed to play – has also displayed intelligence along the way. He was smart enough to pick up things, good and bad, from the managerial luminaries he was served under.

Mick McCarthy and Danny Wilson were two mentors. Keane, who he challenged after being dropped following a man-of-the-match performance for Sunderland, was another key figure.

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Equally Collins is smart enough to know that successful managers don't copy others, but ultimately be themselves. Beware of cheap imitations.

Collins, who moved to Barnsley from USL Championship side Tampa Bay earlier this month, said: "Roy Keane was someone who was a hero of mine growing up. I played for him and he had things that would make you run through a brick wall for him.

"But I can't be Roy Keane, but you want to try and make players feel like that. I will definitely take all those (good) things and maybe things that weren't so good and try and make sure you don't make anyone feel too bad.

"Mick was a great example of (managing) a young and hungry team, maybe not the best on paper, built on togetherness.

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"Danny was slightly different, he was a great man-manager. But I think it's all about how I can be like that by being myself."

Absorbed in the game from his formative years when he started out at junior side Troon Thistle, Collins was also savvy enough to recognise the importance of getting an education.

On the books of Scottish minnows Queen's Park and Dumbarton in his early days as a player, Collins combined playing with study at Strathclyde University where he completed a sports degree.

"At 16 or 17, when you are not good enough to be a professional, you feel there's a restriction," he added.

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"But then when you get older, you think 'well, I had an opportunity to get a university degree and play professional football' and think how fortunate I was.

"Probably that time in education helped me when it came to the coaching licences and doing that part. Every day involved in professional football is something you never want to take for granted."

As well as being a thinker on the game, Collins proved himself to be a talker and someone worth listening to on the pitch and in the dressing room as a player.

Given his long-time desire to move into the dug-out, the most apt nickname for him would surely have been ‘Coach’..

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The ex-Leeds United and Sheffield United centre-half, handed a front-line opportunity in management at Tampa in 2018 while playing there, continued: "They (team-mates) would know that I liked to tell them what to do! I think I’ve played with certain players who could see (he would be a coach).

"One of the reasons that me and Martin Paterson (ex-Tampa assistant) worked together was that we played together.

"Himself, Joe Cole and me would go away afterwards and talk about how we'd do things. Not everyone does that when they play, but I think it definitely helped me make that quick jump."

Collins may have played for two leading Yorkshire clubs either side of Barnsley in Leeds and the Blades, but the Scot possesses an empathy with Reds fans from his own days as a supporter.

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While many Ayrshire folk made the weekly journey to Ibrox and Parkhead to watch the big two of Rangers and Celtic, Collins stayed loyal to his local side Kilmarnock, the team his father John followed. They never missed a game.

Like Killie, Barnsley followers have taken great delight over the years when turning over their bigger neighbours.

Collins has personal experience of that following some chastening Oakwell occasions, headlined by scoring an own goal in Leeds’s 5-2 loss at Barnsley in September 2010.He said: "Anyone who knows me well knows I want to win and will do anything to win. The Barnsley people want that same intensity to win and it's up to me to try and give them that.

"I can see, quite quickly, you walk around and there are Barnsley strips everywhere. For me that's amazing as you go in some cities and it's Man United and Liverpool.

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"It's not here, everyone is a Barnsley fan and that's exciting for me to be part of as I like people to support their local club and want to be part of that.

"I'm a Kilmarnock fan and used to go home and away. It's important as I have been in the stands when it's been good and bad when my dad is going mental.

"I will always try and keep that in mind. Even after the game, if I know the reasons why we haven't been so good and the fans are going ballistic, you know what, that's what being a fan is all about. I can relate to that."