I still love to play says Hartlepool United defender Sam Collins

ON THE BALL: Sam Collins in action against Whitby Town. Picture by FRANK REID
ON THE BALL: Sam Collins in action against Whitby Town. Picture by FRANK REID

PLAYER coach Sam Collins insists he is still very much part of Hartlepool United’s first-team picture after completing his first 90 minutes of pre-season.

The 37-year-old hadn’t featured in any of Hartlepool United’s first three friendly matches but was in from the start against Whitby Town.

Collins looked his usual reliable self at the back, alongside youngster Josh Nearney, and declared afterwards he is “fit and ready” for selection –whenever manager Colin Cooper sees fit.

The experienced central defender was out of contract this summer but signed a new deal, which sees him combine playing with the role of assistant first and reserve team coach.

He is also in overall charge of the second string but he has no desire to stop playing the game he “loves”.

So far though, Cooper has opted to pair new signing Matthew Bates alongside Neil Austin in two out of the three friendly matches played before the weekend trip to Whitby.

Collins told SportMail: “I have said to the gaffer, both at the end of the season and during pre-season, that if he wants me to play then I will be ready.

“But if he doesn’t then I carry on doing what I’m doing.

“I know what my job is and I know what I need to do and to be honest I am loving every minute of this new role.

“I just crack on and if I play I play, it’s what I love to do.”

For now, the former Hull City defender, who has been at Pools since January 2008, was just pleased to get his first minutes of pre-season in the bank.

He described the 2-1 defeat to Whitby as a “tough game” in warm conditions on the coast.

Collins said: “I was pleased to get a full 90 minutes under my belt.

“I was ready for it and have been doing all the training that the other lads have been doing both here and in Spain.

“This was the first time I got a full game in and I was thinking about it a lot the night before, thinking how I was going to get on during the game.

“It was a tough one because the grass was quite long, the conditions were warm and we had a young team out there.

“From a personal point of view, though, I felt really good.”

So far, Pools have managed a 9-0 win over non-league Billingham Town, a 1-0 win over Conference North side Bradford Park Avenue and suffered defeat at the hands of Sunderland (3-0) and now Whitby Town (2-1).

Collins said the fitness levels have been pleasing since the squad returned to training but he admits football-wise, improvements are needed before the 2014-15 season starts.

Collins added: “The fitness side has been really good but the football side we have a couple of weeks and we know were we need to improve.

“We are doing a lot of things day in day out, with the gaffer and Pearsy, [assistant manager Stephen Pears] the way they want us to play.

“As time goes on we will get better, as we need to do because we have to be ready for a couple of weeks time.”

l POOLS fans can buy their tickets for the Boro friendly from the ticket office in Clarence Road with prices fixed at £10 for adults and £5 for concessions.

There will be availability on the turnstiles on the night but fans are advised to purchase in advance where possible.