Sunday 22 September 2019

Ballagh girl Nicola is ready for action

Nicola Sinnott (left) in a race for possession with Siobhán Killeen of Shelbourne
Nicola Sinnott (left) in a race for possession with Siobhán Killeen of Shelbourne

Dean Goodison

The Ballagh: a place with as many pronunciations as sporting greats, and it's not short of stars.

Producing camogie queens and hurlers is in the DNA; even an Olympic boxer is not too far fetched an idea, but surely an international footballer was not part of the plan.

Nicola Sinnott is just that, having made her debut, and up to now only appearance, in an Ireland Senior jersey against a star-studded U.S.A. in 2015. And while there was an obvious pull towards camogie, it was the big ball that really captured the rock-solid defender's attention.

'Obviously, being from The Ballagh the first thing you have in your hand is the hurl,' Sinnott admitted. 'So from the age of five or six I would have been up at the camogie field playing. But I always would have played soccer in school with the boys.'

From there, a natural progression was to the boys' under-age teams with The Ballagh. Mixing her time between soccer and camogie was the norm for the young Sinnott until national team managers started to take notice of her talent and a decision had to be made.

'It was definitely hard because it's the girls you grew up with, your neighbours and your friends from school, all of them would have been playing camogie so in one sense I was kind of breaking free from that,' she said.

'That was tough because obviously I wanted to stick with them and play with your club where you're born and stuff like that, so it's tough to make that decision and step away.'

College at U.C.D. was mixed with soccer with Peamount and then later with Shamrock Rovers. The move home to Wexford Youths only came in 2013 but it has proved fruitful, not only for Sinnott herself, but also the club.

'Nicola is as dependable as ever across the back, she's one of the unsung heroes of the team, she closes gaps, she organises people, she does a lot of work off the pitch,' explained her manager, Gary Hunt.

'She's one of the senior players that so many people look up to. Definitely one that everyone in the squad, and in Wexford and beyond, have so much time for.'

'I feel it's very comforting having Nicola there. She's such a consistent player, one of the most consistent players I've played with,' explained winger Linda Douglas. 'She's very encouraging and positive. I think as a senior player she's a great role model for the team and I'm glad that I play on the same side as her.'

As a key component in the run to the title over the last two seasons, Sinnott has experienced more ups than downs. However, there were tough moments along the way, especially as Youths closed in on their second league title before appearing to let it slip.

'It was tough because I think towards the end of the season we had eight games in the space of maybe 30 days,' Sinnott said. 'Obviously the Galway game was a huge disappointment, we played well that day and we still only came away with a draw. Shels, we went ahead in that game and then to come away with a loss we were hugely disappointed at that stage.'

Youths fell behind in their play-off at Tallaght Stadium, only to come roaring back to take victory and the Women's National League trophy. Yet, there were plenty of nervy moments in the last few minutes as Shelbourne pressed, especially when Niamh Walsh's header flew towards the Wexford goal.

'I remember looking back and thinking "oh my God, that was in" but Tamara (Furlong) pulled off a huge save,' Sinnott recalled.

'Shelbourne were just pressuring us for the last ten, 15 minutes and luckily we managed to hold out and just keep communicating and keep talking, and it was just a matter of getting the ball out, keep it away as far as possible.'

At the end of a long, successful season awards are doled around, and this time Sinnott's performances were recognised appropriately. She was named the 'club player of the year', taking a thoroughly deserved award with typical grace.

'When I was called out I was actually surprised because, I suppose, I had in my head who I thought was going to be picked,' Sinnott said.

'It is nice to win individual awards but for me the most important thing is how we do as a team. How I contribute to the team and my performance can help that.'

Now it's Champions League time again, and the 29-year old teacher will be facing into her third European campaign after previously playing in the knockout stages with Peamount, as well as Youths' trip to Poland last season. Sinnott is expecting a testing three games.

'We've the Kazakhstan side, who are top seeds, so they've progressed quite far previously in the Champions League. We expect them to be an extremely high standard.

'Last year we learned a lot from the Konin game that we lost so maybe we'll take a different approach this year into the game in regards the top seed.

'The Lithuanian team, who we narrowly beat 1-0 previously, were a good side and the game could have went either way. We played in tough heat in the middle of really high temperatures the last time. We learned a lot from that game and expect again a very tough game from them.'

With friends, family and work colleagues all coming out to support Sinnott in the group stages, the Ballagh girl hopes that the rest of Wexford follows their lead and heads out to Ferrycarrig to support their local side on what will be an historic occasion.

'It'd be just great to get the crowd out and give people the opportunity to learn more about the game,' Sinnott said. 'To see the dedication and commitment that these girls put in, I think they deserve to get a good crowd out to the games.

'It'd be unbelievable to get through to the last 32 and then to be involved in the home and away leg it'd be amazing. Shelbourne (as Raheny) and Peamount have done that before so they've shown that it can be done. If we take one game at a time, hopefully we come out on the right side of the results and come top of the group.'

If Wexford are to make the final 32, where the glamour ties await, undoubtedly Nicola Sinnott will have had a great three games. But that would come as no surprise to anyone, as she's had plenty of those performances in the last few years and she wasn't voted 'player of the year' for nothing.

Wexford People