Cork captain Collins a model of calm before the storm

Rebels face champions Kilkenny in the second of the semi-final double-header at Croke Park

Linda Collins: ‘You kind of learn that at the end of the day it’s a hobby and you are playing camogie because you love it. It’s so enjoyable.’ Photograph: Brian Keane/Inpho

Linda Collins: ‘You kind of learn that at the end of the day it’s a hobby and you are playing camogie because you love it. It’s so enjoyable.’ Photograph: Brian Keane/Inpho

 

All-Ireland camogie senior semi-finals: Tipperary v Galway, Croke Park, Sunday - 2pm (live on RTÉ 2) Cork v Kilkenny, 4pm (live on RTÉ 2)

Listening to Cork’s Linda Collins speak, you get a sense that captaincy rests easily on her slim shoulders. A teacher at Summercove National School in Kinsale, she is a naturally good communicator and not given to overanimation or histrionics.

Common sense is the default setting and, allied with a ferocious workrate as well as ability to produce on the pitch, it makes her a perfect candidate for the armband.

A key trait too is a healthy mindset which means that she can separate the duties of captaincy, including the slew of media engagements, from the game itself. This is not someone who will be wasting mental energy worrying about how an article is going to read.

But then she won’t be stressing either about what will unfold from 4pm on Saturday in the All-Ireland senior camogie semi-final against Kilkenny at Croke Park, which forms part of RTÉ 2’s televised double-header along with the first semi-final involving Galway and Tipperary.

This calm focus is developed through experience but it has led to an upsurge in performance, which only confirms and cements that approach for the Courcey Rovers forward.

In a previous interview three years ago, Collins spoke about the periods of doubt that that had dogged her in 2017.

A three-year minor who was involved in two gut-wrenching All-Ireland final replay losses at that grade and also played in two intermediate decider defeats, she was part of the senior squad that claimed ultimate honours in 2015 and 2017 but peers such as Amy O’Connor, Orla Cronin, Libby Coppinger, Laura Treacy and Hannah Looney had become established members of the team.

She concluded that she was getting in her own way, not backing herself and thinking about all that might go wrong rather than focusing on a that visceral love for camogie that existed long before lining out for Cork on Jones’ Road was a consideration.

The proof was in the intermediate final in 2016, when a broken thumb almost ruled her out. Collins missed loads of training and didn’t get worked up about the game because she wasn’t expecting anything of herself. Although the Rebels fell short, Collins was named player of the match, scoring 1-5 in a brilliant display. Her mind had set her free.

Fortified by this new mindset, Collins was greeting the dignitaries as a starter in the 2018 decider and that third Celtic Cross is undoubtedly the sweetest as a result.

Moving forward three years and it is evident that the bright and breezy Collins remains wedded to a more chilled-out approach to her sport, without ever compromising on her desire and commitment.

Great honour

“I don’t mind being captain at all,” she declares. “It’s just a title really in one sense. It’s obviously a great honour and achievement for my club and my family. I am privileged to have it. But I don’t feel any added weight or any added pressure because I just feel there are so many other leaders on the team like Laura Treacy and Ashling Thompson and people like that.

There are different things like this [interview] now as well that I would have to do on the weeks of championship but I am just going out and doing my job that I do every day and the girls around me make it so much easier as well.

“I feel I am very relaxed and I am really enjoying playing camogie at the moment. And I just love going out pucking the ball off the wall and meeting the girls at training and everything. Just doing your best when you are there. I feel like you kind of learn this when you get older. I am only 24 but I suppose I have been on the panel now since 2015. But you kind of learn that at the end of the day it’s a hobby and you are playing camogie because you love it. It’s so enjoyable at the end of the day.”

It was Courcey Rovers’ historic county final success over previous champions Inniscarra that provided her with the captaincy, an occasion on which when she scored a goal and five points, Fiona Keating delivered the knockout punches with 3-2 and their fellow Rebel Saoirse McCarthy also raised a green flag.

“It was honestly the best feeling in the world. We had never won a senior championship . . . The whole parish was just buzzing for weeks after. Pity we couldn’t celebrate it like we should have been able to. And I suppose it brought us back to just enjoying camogie and playing camogie with the people that you grew up with, the people that you played Sciath na Scol and primary school camogie with.”

There was a time when such an enormous occasion as a county final might have weighed her down. The same with leading Cork out at Croke Park. Now, she embraces it, stripping it all back to that joy in playing and she will remind her teammates who t have never lined out at headquarters that it is nothing to get hung up on.

“These big games, people can get overwhelmed with them. But at the end of the day you know you are going out onto green grass and you are playing with a white sliotar. You maybe don’t know, as a forward, who’s marking you. That is probably the only thing you can’t control.

“But other than that, we’re playing camogie because we enjoy it and we started because we love to play the sport. It’s just reminding yourself of these things before you play a game and just go out and absolutely enjoy it because you never go back and regret enjoying a game. Just do your very, very best on the pitch. There is nothing more you can do after that.”

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