Linda Collins was one of many talented young Cork players earmarked for stardom when a number of county legends retired.
Having shone at minor and intermediate levels, it seemed a foregone conclusion she would slip seamlessly into the senior side.
But the progression wasn’t as smooth as expected and only now, at 21, does Collins feel comfortable mixing it in the top flight.
She featured throughout last year’s league campaign but fell away from the pack come the Championship.
Yet her impact 12 months later is that of a changed player as illustrated by a 2-3 tally in a four-point semi-final win over Limerick.
It is, she says, down to a shift in mentality and a rediscovery of confidence.
In the past, the Courcey Rovers sharpshooter feared she was not good enough to be playing alongside the best in the game.
What’s changed in the interim? Nowadays she is performing with more freedom, adopting a happy-go-lucky approach on the pitch.
Off it, the last fortnight has been a flurry of assignments, with an exam thrown in at Mary I, where she is studying to become a primary school teacher.
Those commitments prevented her joining the rest of the All-Ireland-winning squad on their holiday but not from babysitting and childminding, which she does as part-time work. She is intent on keeping herself busy.
“I try to anyway. Otherwise, you’d be overthinking things and what not!” she chuckles.
She said of last year’s lessons: “It is a step up to senior and every year I get so far and then feel like I can never go to the next step. But playing with players like Gemma O’Connor and Orla Cotter is surreal.
The feedback from the coaching staff has been an essential element of the process.
“Kevin Murray is very good. He’d always be giving me tips and tricks on what to improve on. We focus on what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at. Orla Cotter and Aoife Murray would be very good too to me.
"They’re very encouraging at training but even away from training they would be telling you what you might need to brush up on and giving you a confidence boost too.
“My confidence in my own ability would have been a problem last year. I don’t know why I lost confidence. As well, I was struggling with fitness since the start of the year. After the exams I got fitter but I suppose it was too late by then. I have tried to keep that going into this year and so far it’s going okay.”
This weekend’s final hurdle against Kilkenny is more testing, with the opposition chasing a three-in-a-row, the game live on TG4 and the memory of last year, when she was withdrawn early in the second half, to overcome.
But the new Collins is not building it up.
“There are no two ways about it, Kilkenny are going to be a very strong and fast team. But the worst you can do is go out and play badly. You’ve nothing to lose, just go out and give it your best.
"When you’re playing with a smile on your face, it’s easier to enjoy it. You’re more relaxed on the ball, more confident. I probably put too much pressure on myself before. When I was 18, and knowing the talent that was there, every time I’d get the ball, I was so nervous.
"Now I realise you have to say to yourself ‘You are good enough, relax and remember why you’re playing in the first place.’”
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