Nikki Symmons still answering Ireland summons 200 caps later
Irish hockey international voted Irish Times/Irish Sports Council Sportswoman of the Month for June
‘It probably seems a bit crazy, especially when we’re not getting paid, but it’s sport we’re doing it for, it’s not about money,’ says 200-times capped Ireland hockey international Nikki Symmons.
Not everyone who knows her has been convinced by the wisdom of her commitment to her sport for over a decade: “People always say, ‘you have no life!’,” Nikki Symmons laughs. “But I always say, ‘this is my life, I’ve chosen it for the last 12 years. It probably seems a bit crazy, especially when we’re not getting paid, but it’s sport we’re doing it for, it’s not about money.”
Include her time with the Ireland Under-16, 18 and 21 sides, though, and it’s a lot more than 12 years, but that’s when she made her senior debut as a teenager against Wales. And last month, against Canada in Dublin, Symmons, already Irish hockey’s most capped player, reached a remarkable milestone she’s still struggling to take in: playing for her country for the 200th time.
Two hip operations
Her doctor probably rolled his eyes. “He told me to stop playing two years ago,” she says, her battle with arthritis leading to two hip operations and problems with her wrists.
“But every player goes through that kind of thing. I kept injury-free until I was about 26, so I was fortunate enough.”
She and her team-mates, though, have been less fortunate through the years, not least in their chief ambition of qualifying for the Olympic Games, the closest they came last year when a defeat by Belgium in a qualifying final in Antwerp cost them a place in London 2012.
That might have been the natural time for Symmons to bow out, but she opted to play on.
“It’s for the love of the game, really, that’s why you do it and that’s why you carry on, despite the disappointments. I think that’s one thing that’s missing in a lot of sports these days, the love of the game, the love of just playing. And playing for Ireland was what I always wanted to do, so it’s hard to walk away.
“Of course you want to go to those major events, and the Olympics has always been the biggest dream, but there are other reasons as well. Pushing yourself to the limit, the whole experience, the friends you make, the places you visit, the thrill of playing for your country.”
And as a former cricket international too, there can’t be many Irish sports men or women who have represented their country as many times as the 30-year-old Wesley College “old girl” and Loreto player, who coached Glenanne in the Leinster first division last season on a break from playing, intent on adding to that tally this summer as the team prepares for August’s European Championships in Belgium.
After that? How realistic is Rio 2016? “Ah, I’d love to be around, and I’ve told Darren [Smith, the New Zealander who coaches the Ireland team] that, but you just never know. We’ll see. I just want to play for as long as I can.”
For now Symmons is dividing her time between the national team and her role as a mentor, alongside Eddie O’Sullivan, Davy Fitzgerald and Kenny Egan, in a new RTÉ series, Ireland’s Fittest Family, which will air in September.
“I don’t want to think about life after hockey too much, it’s been such a huge part of my life. But, like all my team-mates, I’ve missed christenings, weddings, all that. My friends understand, some just don’t even ask any more. I said to my family, ‘when I retire you’ll be sick of me because I’m going to be at everything’.” Not just yet, though.