Nikki Symmons will become the first Irish woman in any team sport to amass 200 caps tomorrow when the national hockey team takes on Canada as preparations continue for August’s European championships.
The 30-year-old Dubliner – who is also a senior cricket international – has been named in the Irish panel to line out at Belfield having missed last week’s challenge matches against Scotland.
It is a career that dates back to 2001 when Riet Kuper brought her off the bench for a 15-minute stint as a teenager against Wales. She says, however, having already celebrated her 100th and 150th caps, she will not be making too much of a big deal out of the occasion.
“To be honest, I sometimes forget how much I have done,” she said. “It is amazing and I am completely honoured by every cap I get. This one just adds to it and it is amazing to be the first Irish female athlete to do it.
“But it is just a cap and a game from which we can get back on a winning track which we need to do.”
She is part of a 27-player panel for the summer, one which has seen four of the more experienced players cut in favour of younger charges with Cliodhna Sargent, Sinead McCarthy, Miriam Crowley and Aine Connery not involved.
As such, the project for Rio in 2016 is very much underway with a number of teenagers added to this extended panel. It is part of new coach Darren Smith’s ongoing assessment process of the squad having taken over the panel in late February.
He had precious little time before World League round two in Spain with the squad selection made for him prior to his arrival in the country.
But those changes in the panel have opened a number of new doors for the up-and-comers with UCD speedster Emily Beatty in line to make her debut over the course of the weekend.
“With the World League, it was difficult for him to do anything then and we did let ourselves down to be honest.
“The cuts have been hard and it is a very different squad but there is a lot of young talent coming up and that’s really exciting even being the oldest one there. These players will hopefully go on to help Ireland qualify for the Olympics.
“I suppose he had to change things and while it was really tough – and hard for him as well – for the players, there’s definitely some really good talent there.
“It’s exciting with Gillian Pinder coming back in and being a bit more available now after her year in the US. Emily Beatty is going to be a really good player, she is really quick and has to learn her trade a little bit but that will come in time.”
Twelve seasons in green has seen Symmons take on numerous different roles in the side. In more recent times, she has become very much a go-to voice for hockey as well as women’s sport in general, regularly featuring in radio and television interviews while also becoming an ambassador for Believe with Belle (www.believewithbelle.com).
Most recently, she was part of a panel of four top sports people – along with Republic of Ireland women’s soccer manager Sue Ronan, Irish women’s rugby team manager Gemma Crowley and camogie’s Mary O’Connor – to take part in the Sport For Business Women in Sport conference in UCD this afternoon.
“There was a lot of issues being talked about from how to get women more involved in sport to getting sponsors on board. There were a lot of big companies here so hopefully we can persuade some of them to get involved and support women in sport.
“It’s about trying to get people to understand how getting women involved in sport can really help a company and use it both grow the sport and grow their product.
“It was great to see companies like Liberty Insurance, who are sponsoring camogie. They know this takes time and so are in for five years to reap rewards of being on camogie’s books as such. But they’re happy to do that and know that it takes time. That is the key thing for business.
“The other part is about relationships with people. It’s about building that like the Irish women have with Electric Ireland. “
While Symmons takes the lead on hockey’s behalf, she says her role in the current international setup is will primarily relate to her on-pitch performance.
“My role isn’t about being the oldest or most capped player. My leadership role is about playing; it’s about training hard and playing well.
“We’re trying to make it more about the team and getting everyone involved, becoming leaders themselves rather than calling them the oldest or most capped and I think that’s the way it should be.”
Women’s Senior International Challenge matches (Belfield):
Saturday: Ireland vs Canada, 2.30pm
Sunday: Ireland vs Canada, 2.30pm
Tuesday, June 25: Ireland vs Canada, 7.30pm