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New chapter opening for defender Collins
FOR Sam Collins, Wednesday marked a new chapter in his football career. With 553 career appearances to his name, the Hartlepool United centre-half took charge of the club's reserve side.
After being a regular at Victoria Park since moving from Hull in January 2008, the 36-year-old is no longer a first-choice centre half. Colin Cooper has gone for two players learning their game in Jack Baldwin and Christian Burgess in the middle of the back four, with Collins called upon when the defence needs reinforcing. Coaching is the natural progression for a student of the game and, under Cooper, Collins will be allowed to develop.
As one of the dressing rooms older and more respected heads, Collins overseen the 2-1 second string win over Scunthorpe. "Wednesday was a really good experience for Sam,'' admitted Cooper. "He's been working with Craig Hignett and John Hewitson over the last few reserve games, so I asked him if he would like to take charge on Wednesday - and with a win, he's a manager with a 100 per cent record. He's taken to it like a duck to water!
"He enjoyed it. I said to him that if he is the coach of that team, on that evening, the first question is do you pick yourself?
"And he didn't - he wanted to do the organisation and the overseeing from the sidelines. His manner and the way he dealt with it all was very good. "It's promising for him if he decides to go down that path in the future. "He looked as if he enjoyed it and, if you are winning, then you will enjoy it.'' Collins has started one game this season, but since the opening day of the campaign, his only outings have been late substitute appearances in the last two games. As someone who dipped his toe into the coaching water while still a player at Middlesbrough, Cooper can help Collins along the path to management.
"It's something I did,'' he admitted. "I became the eyes and ears of Middlesbrough's reserve team on the pitch, I was still playing and available if needed - which was the case every now and again under Steve McClaren. In the meantime, I was allowed to develop that side of my career. It was something I was really interested in and you need to be interested in it for it to happen.'' "He is interested in it, but his focus is as a player. We don't have many midweek first-team fixtures, so he can change his focus on a Monday for a Tuesday game, or Tuesday for a Wednesday reserve game and it gives him something else.
"He was spending time with Hull, coaching their under-16s, so it shows the interest is there. It shows he is prepared to put the time in. He lives where he lives, but he is spending a lot of time up here because he realises that the group of lads that comes up from Yorkshire each day he has to detach himself from that because he needed for an afternoon session, to work with the young players or have a game on the evening, so he is prepared to do that and shows the type of lad he is.''
And Cooper feels that within Pools' current coaching structure there is a role ideally suited to Collins. "We are Hartlepool United and not blessed with loads of staff,'' he added. "Very early on, he expressed a preference to get involved in coaching here.
"I asked if it was something he is interested in, so there needs to be a link - and we don't have the staffing resources of others - between first team and youth team. "There generally is a group of eight or nine players, who are not quite first team, but have had a sniff of the first team and still need a development plan if you like. "There's no actual development coach here and, if it's something Sam is interested in, then I would like him to explore that.''
Antony Sweeney played for 75 minutes in Wednesday's win, and he will be assessed to determine his involvement against Oxford tomorrow after feeling tightness in his calf, but midfielder Bradley Walker will again be absent with ankle ligament trouble.
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