Linda Collins targets Cork starting place for All-Ireland final

Captain scored winning point in semi-final but says that does not guarantee anything

 Cork’s Linda Collins scoring the winning point against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Cork’s Linda Collins scoring the winning point against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Cork camogie captain Linda Collins laughs when she recalls the immediate aftermath of the All-Ireland semi-final win over reigning champions Kilkenny, when her team-mates showered her with congratulations for scoring the winning point in the fourth minute of injury time.

“Oh Jesus, did I?”

It was news to her.

She could be forgiven for having been a bit flustered, though, not just because the closing moments of the game had been so frenetic. Her whole experience around the semi-final had been a flustering one.

From being named in the starting line-up, to getting a call from management telling her she would only be on the bench, to having to sit on the sideline for the first 50 minutes of the game, coming on soon before Kilkenny took a two-point lead and Cork went down to 14 players after Orla Cronin’s sending off.

And then scoring the point that ended the drought that had seen Cork fail to reach the final since the dim and distant past of . . . 2018. Well, by Cork standards that was a drought, the county, after all, having appeared in 15 finals between 2000 and 2018, winning nine of them.

She spoke again this week about the impact of being dropped for that game, her being captain only heightening the disappointment, but how she was determined to knuckle down and just be prepared for whatever role she was asked to play.

“Two weeks before the game they [management] were thinking about it. I thought, ‘I’ve played every other game, so why am I not playing in the All-Ireland semi-final?’ It was tough, but I never showed it at training. I trained hard and I worked hard. Some people would think because they’re captain they’re entitled to a position – but nobody should really be entitled to a position. It should be the person who is working the hardest, or who is going to slot in to the team and the game plan.”

Was having the impact she had when she came on, and getting that winning score, about sending a message? “No – and so many people said that to me afterwards – ‘justice’ or whatever. That didn’t even cross my mind. That wasn’t even in my head. My job that day was to make an impact. What was in my head running out on to the field was that any ball I get I’m going to use it, I’m going to retain it, and try to make the right decision on it. That was what was going through my head. Make space, look for the ball and make good decisions.”

And if she’s on the bench again for the final, that, she says, is exactly how she’ll approach this game. But her chances of making the starting line-up will significantly increase if Cronin, a four-time All-Ireland winner, is suspended. As it stands, she’s out of the final after the Camogie Association’s hearings committee upheld the red card she was given after appearing to strike Grace Walsh with her hurley after the Kilkenny player barged in to her back and knocked her over. Cork must now decide whether to go to the association’s appeals committee or take the case to the Disputes Resolution Authority.

“If she was to miss the final, she’d be a massive loss,” says Collins. “Orla takes the frees, she’s central to everything, picking up loose ball, drifting into space, she does that throughout the game. She just reads it so well, she’s an out ball all the time. So, she would be a massive loss, but we can’t control it now. It’s out of our hands. Whatever they decide with the appeal, we don’t know what way it’s going to go. We just have to train hard and try and think that she’s not going to be there. If she is, it’s just a bonus.”

Alongside Cronin, Collins, a 24-year-old teacher, has been a member of the senior panel since 2015, Cork winning three All-Irelands since then, her first start coming in the 2018 victory over Kilkenny.

It was Courcey Rovers’ first ever senior championship, when the Ballinspittle club beat Inniscarra in the county final last September, that resulted in Collins being awarded the captaincy, a role that initially seemed daunting in light of some of the big characters who preceded her in the job.

“Initially I was worrying that I would have to be like Gemma O’Connor or Aoife Murray, but I decided I’d create my own style. There are times when I speak, there are times when I don’t. My main thing this year was getting the younger ones in and getting them comfortable, and being able to talk to me and ask me questions, and create a bit of a bond between the girls.”

“It hasn’t really affected me at all, I’m a very calm person so I’m just going with it. I speak every now and again in the dressingroom but I don’t feel under any pressure to say anything. You’ve the likes of Ashling Thompson and Laura Treacy who always speak no matter what. But it’s a huge honour for me, my family and club, especially considering the club has never had a captain of Cork.”

Whether or not she gets to raise the O’Duffy Cup on Sunday, then, depends on overcoming a Galway side that beat Cork by two points in June’s National League semi-finals. Their record against Cork in All-Ireland finals, though, hasn’t been a happy one, winning just one of their eight meetings – that was in 1996, when they won their first ever senior title, the year Collins was born.

Cork manager Paudie Murray, possibly for pure divilment, alluded to Galway’s Croke Park struggles over the years – won three All-Ireland finals in all, lost 16 – when he spoke after the semi-final. “Croke Park has been really good for this team [Cork], we lose very few games here . . . probably not so much with Galway – they’ve lost two finals here in the last 12 months,” he said referring to last year’s All-Ireland defeat to Kilkenny and June’s National League final loss to the same opposition.

Collins, though, isn’t convinced that will have much bearing on the outcome of Sunday’s game. “It is a thing in Cork that we win finals, but teams change, people drop in and out. So realistically does it matter?” she asks, although she adds, “it might matter mentally to Galway”.

“But look, we’re under no illusions about the contest Galway are going to bring, we all need to play out of our skin to have a chance of winning. I’ll train hard and work hard and do whatever it takes to get into the starting 15. If I don’t, that’s just the way it is and I can’t change it, but I’ll take whatever role I’m given.”

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