Honours Boards at a glance
- 2010 makes Ireland one-day international cricket debut against Pakistan
- 2013 wins 200th cap against Canada in Dublin
- 2013 makes 208th and final appearance for Ireland against Scotland at the Euro Nations in Belgium
- 31 international goals scored
- 2004, 2008, 2012 Olympic qualifiers
- 2005/6, 2009/10 World Cup qualifiers
- 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 European Championships
Nikki Symmons was the first Irish player, male or female, to win 200 caps. And considering she never played in an Olympic Games or many of the world’s top tournaments that is one magnificent achievement.
In common with all celebrated international athletes, the 33-year-old Dubliner remains incredibly modest. “Every game I put on the Irish shirt gave me great memories, not always good, but the bad also served as good memories to make me who I am today” she said. “I guess I gave my life to hockey for the love of the sport. I gave it everything while going to college then working full-time. There were many sacrifices and I think I inspired people by the way I went about giving it all I had on the pitch, especially near the end of my career. I was always striving to be the best I could be and to be a role model.”
It all started in Dublin, the Irish capital which has produced a plethora of famous people from Oscar Wilde to singer Sinead O’Connor, from golfers Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley to Bono from U2 and rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll. “Mostly men which is something that needs to change!” quips Symmons.
Raised in a supportive family, her Mum played a big role in her sporting career as did her grandfather who inspired her, pushing her to be the best she could be. He introduced her to tennis before taking her to the hockey pitch for regular extra practice sessions.
A natural sportswoman, Symmons also represented Ireland at cricket, playing four one-day internationals and three T20 matches which included a quick-fire 86 off 48 balls in a win against the Netherlands five years ago.
After coming through the junior U-16, U-18 and U-21 Ireland ranks, she made her international hockey debut as a teenager against Wales in Cardiff in 2001 and jokingly remembers all the running she did as a striker. Fast forward twelve years and Symmons crowned a superb career making her 200th international appearance against Canada in her home city.
Her best memory is playing in front of huge crowds in Argentina – “we all felt like celebrities” – and of not only scoring goals for Ireland at one end, but playing on left post to deny teams at the other.
Naturally, she is disappointed never to have played in the Olympics with the failure to qualify for London 2012 a particular source of regret. She added: “We lost in the final of the event to Belgium and I think it was worse because we had prepared so well and were in the zone but we just let it go in the final. However, I was also very proud of the whole squad and our build up because I believed we had the edge to qualify.”
If she has a sporting hero it is Steffi Graf. The German-born tennis icon was a favourite during her tennis playing days and she still has the autograph Graf signed one year at Wimbledon. After switching to hockey, Symmons singles out Clare McMahon and Arlene Boyles as senior players who positively influenced her development.
Neither does it come as any surprise to learn that Argentina’s Luciana Aymar tops Nikki’s star list for her sheer presence and skills. “She is a wonderful person for the game and an inspiration to so many on and off the field. I would also say a previous Hall of Fame inductee Natascha Keller is one of the best players the game has ever seen. One of my favourite memories is marking her in the 2004 Olympic qualifier! I loved playing opposite her and after Ireland came away with a super draw with Germany in that match, they went on to win Olympic gold.”
Symmons admits her induction in to the EHF Hall of Fame is unbelievable and extra special as she has never played in the Olympics or a World Cup. She said: “It’s amazing to be recognised for all the hard work throughout my career and in to my next and means the world to me and my journey as a person.”
She remains very much part of the hockey fraternity and, having completed a masters in sports management in Lausanne, is working for the international governing body FIH, as a digital co-ordinator. Playing in the elite events on the international calendar may have eluded her but when you can pack away your stick and look back on a career having shown unwavering commitment for twelve years Symmons has every
right to feel extremely proud.
written by Cathy Harris, Hockey Correspondent – The Times (London)
Photographs: EHF/Frank Uijlenbroek