I used to be afraid to wear my Kerry gear in training, admits Ashbourne Cup star
Published 20/02/2016 | 19:16
Kerry caused the first big shock of the hurling season when the Allianz League resumed and that was not the only proof of the Kingdom's growing small ball culture in the past week.
A late, late goal from inspirational captain Laura McMahon saw the University of Limerick pip UCC to become queens of colleges' camogie once again in a nail biting Ashbourne Cup decider.
Yet despite the mass of inter-county players involved it was a young Kerry woman - Patrice Diggin (20) - who won Player of the Match.
UCC looked to have buried UL with a brace of late goals when Diggin, who'd already scored 0-8, stepped up to try to equalise in the dying minutes with a long-range free.
"When Cork got the last goal it looked disastrous but I still kept thinking 'this is not over!' I was actually going for a point and dropped it short," she admitted. "Thankfully it was flicked in, it was an unbelievable finish to an amazing weekend."
Diggin is from the same club (Causeway) as leading Kerry hurlers like Colum Harty and Bryan Murphy so she wasn't a bit surprised by the men's 10-point victory over Laois in their league opener.
"Obviously football's the biggest thing in the county but attitudes have changed, especially when the men got promoted to Division 1B last year. That has gained them a lot of respect and you definitely hear a lot more about them.
"We beat Cork in the Munster (junior A) final last summer. Beating Cork in anything in Kerry is a huge thing and given how dominant they are in camogie, that was a massive achievement.
"That seemed to get us a lot more attention and interest too and hopefully we'll start to get more more of it," she added.
The red-haired midfielder has long been tipped as a rising star nationally but, like some Kerry hurlers, admits to being initially intimidated among her inter-county peers, despite being selected for UL's Ashbourne panel from her first year in college three seasons ago.
"It was nothing to do with the girls or the management, they were all fantastic but you'd be looking around at all these Galway and Tipp players, seeing how good they were and sort of feeling they'll be laughing at you," she confessed.
"At the start I was half afraid to wear my Kerry gear in training but everyone was so welcoming, I couldn't have asked for a better playing environment and once I was training with the girls I got past all that."
The Kingdom's women had a great run last year. They won Division 4 and that historic Munster junior title before reaching the All-Ireland Junior A final where Carlow put them back on their heels.
Now comes the next step up to Division Three and the premier junior grade and Diggin hadn't much time to celebrate her second colleges' All-Ireland in three years.
College Co-op (work experience) started in January and the sport and exercise science student was back working in Tralee's Nisus Fitness by lunchtime next day.
Fortunately the gym is owned by Joe O'Connor, fitness advisor to Clare and now Limerick's hurlers and also to the TV show 'Ireland's Fittest Family'.
"Joe has been very understanding whenever I needed to go back to Limerick for training," she said. "We were training twice a-week and also had a challenge match each weekend."
Now all her focus will be with the county and while camogie's 2016 Irish Daily Star national league begins tomorrow (Sun), Kerry's Division Three campaign doesn't start until a home game with Roscommon on March 5.
But Division One begins with All-Ireland champions Cork taking on Limerick in a big Munster Derby in Rathkeale and defending Division One champions Galway travelling to Tipperary.
"I play a bit of football for the club but it has always been camogie for me," Diggin said. "I couldn't live without it, it's just a class game."
Sunday, February 21
Irish Daily Star National League - Round 1 (All 2.0 unless stated)
Division 1 Tipperary v Galway, The Ragg.
Offaly v Dublin, St Rynaghs.
Wexford v Clare, Clane (Co Kildare).
Limerick v Cork, Rathkeale.
Kilkenny v Derry, Conahy Shamrocks.
Westmeath v Meath (Bray Emmets, Wicklow).
Carlow v Laois, Fenagh,
Down v Kilkenny, Pairc Esler, 12 noon.
Wexford v Kildare, Coolgreany.