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Interview with Nikki Symmons   27/06/2013

After becoming the first hockey player (male or female) to reach 200 International Caps for Ireland, Irish Hockey sat down with Nikki Symmons to recap on a long and distinguished career with the Green Army and her plans for the future:

Irish Hockey: How did your call up for the senior team first come about?

I was picked for the Leinster senior team when I was 17 and played pretty well at the interprovincials and scored a few goals. Riet who was coach at the time came over to me and asked if I would join the senior squad so that was really exciting. I trained for a year before I got my first cap aged 18, in 2001 against Wales in Cardiff. That year I only got two more caps and it was another while before I added to that. Mary Goode told me when she came into the squad in 2003 I was still on 3 caps!

It was a difficult time and I had to work really hard to force my way onto the team and eventually I got my chance in the Olympic Qualifiers in 2004. It really taught  me a valuable lesson in being patient, doing the hard yards behind the scenes and just waiting for your chance when it comes and grabbing it with both hands.

Irish hockey: What have been some of the memorable moments of your career so far?

I have so many unbelievable memories from my career, right from underage up to now. I have been around the world with hockey and have been lucky enough to have done that with some really good friends. My favourite place we have gone to play would probably be South Africa; it's a beautiful country, with sunshine and such friendly people. After one tournament a few years ago we stayed on for 5 days in Camp's Bay in Cape Town, that was really special.

My favourite game is probably our draw with Germany in the Olympic Qualifiers in New Zealand in 2004. The Germans went on to win the qualifier and also won gold at the Olympics that year.

I've scored a couple of nice goals for Loreto but for Ireland probably the one I netted in the Europeans in Germany in 2011, it was a real team goal that started from the back so wasn't just individual skills.

Irish Hockey: How important has your family been throughout your career?

My family are incredibly important to me in helping me throughout my career. I may not always show it, but I appreciate the efforts they have gone to and I wouldn't be where I am today without their help. Washing my gear, driving me everywhere, paying for trips, they are all things you forget about as you get older but they are so important.

One of the things I love most is that they support you and the team regardless of how you play which is always good to have! They come and support my games and I know they go through the same highs and lows as I do.

My granddad was my inspiration growing up, from as young as 3 he had me out playing tennis, cricket and rugby in the garden, I learnt a lot from him. He always told me to keep my eye on the ball and I have never forgotten those words since.

Irish Hockey: What does it take to be a member of the green army?

It's amazing to be part of the green army but it comes as a result of a lot of hard work. Trying to maintain a career whilst balancing training takes a huge amount of effort and commitment. It often means going to the gym at 6am, going to work and getting out on the pitch again that evening before doing it all over again the next day, but if that's what it takes that what you do. Loss of earnings and unpaid leave are common for us, with many of us not actually getting any holidays because off days are spent training or travelling to play.

The commitment and the hours we put in often go unnoticed, but it's a choice you make so it's not like we want anyone to feel sorry for us. Some people would say ‘Oh you don't have a life' but in fact you do and it's a great one, it's the choice you make and travelling the world, representing your country is a unique and rare opportunity so you have to make the most of every moment.  

Irish Hockey: You've had a few injuries in your career, tell us more.

I was great as a youngster but then age caught up on me, and when I was 26 I had two operations on my left hip. I have osteoarthritis in my hip joints, but I have been back in action 7 weeks post operation. Coming back from injury is tough physically and mentally as you have missed out on weeks of training and you have to watch others continue to train hard whilst you recover. But there's a great support group there and the girls are delighted to see someone recuperate and return.

Irish Hockey: How important is funding for the progress of the green army?

Funding is huge for us, as it is for any team, and if we didn't have it we would struggle to compete with the top sides. We don't get paid to play so we have to work to sustain a living, but yet strive to be as professional as we can as athletes. Funding and sponsorship help to allow us to be as professional in our approach as we can. Unfortunately our government funding has been cut, which is an incredible shame as we want to build on the strides we have made rather than go backwards. We have built a great relationship with Electric Ireland since they come on board to support women's hockey and are indebted to them and their funding. Long may it continue.

Irish Hockey: What lessons has your hockey career taught you in life?

I think when you take a step back from hockey and training so much you really realise how much playing for Ireland has taught me. You talk to other people or you go to a job interview or fill in a resume and you realise what skills you have developed over the years. Mentally I have learnt to get over disappointment or adversity much quicker than others. I know what it means to be truly committed to a cause and how I can be part of a team all striving for the same goal. I have been on the senior panel for 12 years and there are few who could rival that.

Irish Hockey: How does it feel to have reached your 200th cap milestone?

It's incredible, sometimes I forget how much I have played and for me I try to approach each game as just another game where I need the same focus and approach as every other. Obviously it was an unbelievable moment but I tried not to get too excited about it!

Irish Hockey: with the under 18 Europeans coming up in Dublin over the summer, will you and the green army be out to support?

Yes definitely, I think we have a normal training week over their tournament so we will be out in force to support. It's amazing to have the tournament in Dublin and a great achievement for those selected to pull on an Irish jersey in front of a home crowd. There are a lot of good players there and they will be banging on the doors of the senior squad soon so it is a really exciting time for them too. When I played we also played Home Nations involving Scotland, England and Wales and we drew with English which was a great feeling!

Irish Hockey: What does the future hold for Nikki Symmons?

Well the future is pretty exciting for me; I am involved with a couple of things at the minute. I am an ambassador for Arthritis Ireland, trying to highlight that those with arthritis can still be fit and active. I'm also involved in an RTE programme to find Ireland's fittest family, I can't say much at the minute but it's going to be great fun and it's good to promote Irish Hockey to the public.

Hockey wise, I want to keep training hard and see what comes. As long as I can commit 100% to the team and my body holds up, I want to be part of the Green Army!

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