In 2016 I spent the summer coaching the Kilkenny intermediate camogie team. Facing Cork in the final, we spent three weeks preparing for the goal threat of Linda Collins. Collins was a full-forward on my Mary Immaculate College Ashbourne Cup team the previous winter and hit nine goals in five games before we fell at the semi-final stage. Before that she was known for being a goal machine for some of the Cork underage teams. We were taking no chances: keep her outside, let her shoot, no goals whatsoever.
Collins laughs when I open with this, and rightly so. That afternoon she proceeded to shoot the lights out with five points from play, easily the best performance in the three finals played in Croke Park that day. We used to joke in Mary I that Collins only scored points if the goalkeeper tipped her goal shot over the bar. I didn’t expect it and while we hung on to win that day it certainly wasn’t my finest display of coaching.
Her performance that day was care free and classy. The flurry of points showing an improved skillset, making her the complete player, made for the big stage. The only natural progression from there was to fill the number 14 jersey for the Cork seniors for the next decade. But 2017 never took off for Collins. A few appearances in the national league were the height of her senior involvement and the year ended in disappointment with another Intermediate final defeat in a replay against Meath.
Disillusioned with camogie, Collins simply couldn’t put her finger on why she wasn’t consistently performing at the level she felt she could, but some serious self-reflection over the winter would prove to be career changing.
Throwback to the lead up to the 2016 final. Collins was struggling with a broken thumb – it was fifty-fifty as to whether she would even play. She walked out onto the pitch that day with no expectations for herself and cut loose. And there is the secret.
“I just found that I wasn’t performing at all” said Collins. “I was looking around at the class players in the Cork squad and I probably didn’t believe I was good enough to be there beside them.”
“Putting huge pressure on myself when I got a start. Thinking too much about it. Hurling completely tied up in myself, no flow to my game. I realised that in 2016 I was pure relaxed going onto the pitch and that’s where the performance came from. It took me a year to realise it though!”
“But now I have a completely different attitude. When I’m handed the jersey I just tell myself how lucky I am to be part of an incredible group and I go out to just enjoy it and hurl away with a bit of freedom.”
The results are clear to see. 2-3 from play against Limerick in the league semi-final win contributed to her winning the WGPA player of the month for April and if that form holds true then more space will be needed on the Collins’ mantlepiece at home.
I ask if her personal goals are priority over the team goals this year and she strongly insists that the team is always number one. “Paudie [Murray] only ever talks about the squad. It would mean nothing to me if I had a great game and Cork didn’t win. And that goes for a group game or a final.”
“We focus on one game at a time, one opponent at a time and the squad is completely focused on the next challenge coming over the horizon.”
“Having an All-Ireland medal in the pocket is just an incredible feeling and everyone on the panel contributes to the wins. It’s not about individual goals.”
I joke with Collins that it’s a typical Cork attitude that she is mentioning finals already before a ball is pucked in anger in the championship, but she insists that it’s not arrogance, simply a desire to maintain the legacy of success that previous Cork teams have created.
“Camogie is huge in Cork. Always has been. The players and teams that have gone before us down through the years. The public expects us to win. And we put pressure on ourselves to win to honour those players and teams that went before us. When we talk about finals and winning it’s not arrogance, it’s just a hunger to keep Cork camogie at the top.”
Just finished her exams in Mary I, Collins speaks with the energy and relaxed tones of someone who has a summer of green fields and sunshine ahead of her. “We are going to be the first women’s team to play in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh”, speaking about their upcoming Munster final date with Tipperary on the 26th of May, and the tone of her voice says it all. For Linda Collins the spotlight is no longer a place to wilt, but a place to relax.
Cork open their campaign with two home fixtures against Wexford on the 9th and Dublin on the 26th of June.
Columnist with GAAWrap and current Éire Óg Ennis Senior Hurling coach.