A consistent and reliable figure for the Singleton Strikers, Hayden Nicol has grown to be a key player for the Hunter Valley based side. After only signing with the club at the start of last season, Nicol already has earnt the respect of his peers and recieved the role of captaincy this campaign after a stellar 2018 season. For this edition of NEWFM Northern League One Premier Profiles, correspondent, James, caught up with Hayden to discuss his incredible football journey that has seen him play in Sydney’s top NPL division and once playing against the Newcastle Jets while now balancing playing for the Strikers.
Where and when did you start your junior career and how did you progress into senior football?
I started playing local football at Muswellbrook Eagles FC when I was four or five and played locally there all the way up until I played interdistrict when I was 12. I played U13’s-U15’s with the Hunter Valley Hawks and then progressed to the Weston Bears.
Tell me about your playing history – What teams have you played for and when?
I followed Gary Wand [current Thornton Redbacks coach] with a bunch of the boys from Hunter Valley to Weston Bears in 2010 into the 19s and then onto the U23’s squad the following year. In 2012 though, I moved to Wollongong for University. I played U18s and a bit of U20s for Wollongong Wolves in the NSW NPL competition that year which was a bit of a different standard to what I was used to. The next year I moved back into the Illawarra Premier League and played two years for the Fernhill Foxes and another two years for Woonona Sharks. In 2017, I moved back to Muswellbrook for work after finishing university and signed for Weston again, but the travelling was just too much for work so played in the Zone League Two league for Muswellbrook Eagles. At the start of 2018 I signed for the Singleton Strikers and have been there since.
The Strikers have to travel a fair distance most away days, how do you best manage yourself for the travel to be prepared for the games?
Coming from Muswellbrook, I’ve grown up with a fair bit of travelling since I was young, usually every week to Newcastle, so I’ve definitely gotten used to it. Naturally I just leave a bit earlier and get lunch on the way to the game to break up the trip. I have been known to get leg cramps on the way home from games so I try to make sure I have plenty of leg room and pump the magnesium tablets before the game.
Having been captain this year, what have you tried to bring to the added leadership role?
I’ve played with a lot of good players and leaders on and off the park over my time and I’ve tried to take the good points from each one of them. I’m a firm believer in ‘you play the way you train’ so I try to show intensity and commitment at training.
What attracted you to the club initially and what is the best thing about playing for the Singleton Strikers?
Muswellbrook dropped out of Zone League Two at the start of last year so just before the season started, I sent Dave Willoughby a message Dave was the director of coaching when I played back at Hunter Valley Hawks so it was a good chance to come back and play a good standard of football. Singleton is the closest club to Muswellbrook and with a few other Muswellbrook boys, my brother Lachlan and Jake Barner, at the club the travelling isn’t too bad. Singleton doesn’t have the same catchment of players as some of the Newcastle clubs so you get a great bunch of blokes that are locals that love the club and come back year after year. Then there are the people behind the scenes, all the volunteers and committee, that continue to put in the effort so we can get out on the park.
What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not playing football?
Standard stuff really – footy during the week, watching or playing sport, relaxing when I’m not working and roasting mates on the group chats.
What do you do for work? Are you currently studying? Or have you completed your studies, if so, in what field?
I studied Civil and Mining Engineering at the University of Wollongong and currently work as a Mining Engineer at Bengalla Mining Company looking after the Dragline.
Most memorable moment(s) of your career so far?
I played my first ever first-grade match coming off the bench for Weston against the Newcastle Jets in a pre-season friendly back in 2011 when I was only 17. I don’t think I’ll forget that moment. I also won a Youth Cup in Wollongong with Woonona Sharks. I’ve been relegated once when playing for Fernhill Foxes and hope I never have to experience a season like that again.
Most influential person in your career?
I’d say my parents have had the most influence on my career. I probably wouldn’t have played to the levels I have without them driving me and my siblings all over the place when I was younger – whether it was training, games or comps.
What is the Strikers objectives for the remaining games of 2019?
Restore a bit of pride. I don’t think the score lines we have had this year have been a fair reflection of our performances. In many of our games we play the better football and really grind it out against the other teams, but we just haven’t had that polish to win games. Last year we had the element of surprise and hit a lot of teams on the counter, this year I think we were respected a lot more and teams sat back and at times we weren’t good enough to break them down.