“WITH Sam, I keep saying the same thing, I’ve been in that position at his age and you want players of that experience to have a positive impact.’’ And so Colin Cooper has been proved right in the last two games.

Using his experience as a centre-half at Middlesbrough as his playing days were coming to a natural conclusion, the Hartlepool United boss sees Sam Collins in the same situation.

As Cooper’s time at Boro on the pitch was being reduced, his workload off it was increasing as he got involved in coaching and passing on his experience to the younger members of the squad.

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Collins, this season, has been mostly consigned to a watching brief for Pools, as Cooper picked Jack Baldwin and Christian Burgess as his first-choice central defenders.

With Baldwin moving on to Peterborough for an initial £500,000, Collins has been back in the side. He hasn’t let anyone down; not that Cooper expected anything different.

“Sam has been a credit in the way he’s kept himself fit and the two performances he’s put in, he has stood up to the challenge,’’ added Cooper.

“He’s put his body on the line and you want that, players desperate to keep the ball out of the goal.

“We defended well, and the back four can take pride from what they have done. Big Sam can pat himself on the back for the way he has responded in the last two games.’’ Two clean sheets in as many games has left Collins smiling and he sees no reason why he can’t stay in the side for the rest of the campaign.

Collins, 36, said: “I appreciate playing football, I always have, right from starting at 16 years old. It’s the best thing ever.

“Now I’m getting older and wonder how long you can carry on for, then you have to make the most of it and enjoy it. I intend to do that. I love playing.

“This season has been different for me. I feel, legs-wise, I do more than enough work and in my spare time at home I do running and I like doing triathlons and the like which helps me – I’m a fitness freak and can’t help myself!

“But it helps me with my football as well as it means I’m ready when called upon to play.’’ Collins has been involved in helping Craig Hignett with the reserve side this season, while also helping coaching the club’s younger professionals.

With experience of coaching Hull City’s Under-16s of late, he is ensuring he is well prepared for when his playing days come to a natural conclusion.

“I’ve a role off the field here as well to help the young players,’’ he said. “The gaffer has wanted to play Jack and Christian at the back, but I’m not the sort to go around sulking and from day one I’ve helped them all out there.

“I’m doing a lot of work with the younger players and helping with the reserves as well.

“There’s a lot of potential there and the future is good for the club.

“But they still need that bit of guidance and help out there and I hope I can give them that.’’ Collins is the elder statesman of Pools youthful side.

“Throughout the team there’s a hell of a lot of young players and a lot of potential,’’ he said.

“Some of them have come in on loan, some have come through the ranks. They will keep learning in first-team football and in training.

“And I’m sure they will get better as the environment they are in, the one created here, gives them an opportunity to flourish and perform.’’ Meanwhile, right-back Michael Duckworth is likely to return to training with the first-team this week following a hernia operation.