NICOLA Devine is quite a role model for her students.
And the 24-year-old PE teacher is hoping Sunderland Women’s exciting end to the season can bring her medals to prove it!
The Lady Black Cats entertain Blackburn Rovers at Eppleton CW tomorrow in the League Cup semi-finals, with a place in the final on Sunday, May 6, up for grabs.
A week tomorrow, Sunderland travel to Cardiff knowing a victory will secure a second successive national Premier League title.
It was a championship that Devine missed out on after dropping down a division to play for Newcastle in order to get regular football. But she returned to Sunderland last summer determined to win back a place in the team, and has proven that hard work brings its rewards.
“I left last season for Newcastle around Christmas time,” said the left-sided player, who has regularlly switched between defence and midfield this season.
“Being a full-time teacher and not playing regularly meant that I just couldn’t justify losing my weekends to sit on a bench. I needed to play first-team football in order to keep fit and Newcastle could offer me that.
“When I left I said that I would be back to give it a go next season and I made sure I was fit and ready for the start of pre-season for Sunderland.
“I am pleased with how much I have played this year and think it has been down to the hard work I’ve put in. I was so determined at the start of the season to get fit and fight for my place in the team and keep it.
“Fortunately, I have been able to do that, but because there is so much competition in the squad I’ve had to keep on my toes. If you have a poor performance someone could come in and take your shirt, but my hard work has paid off as I’ve started most games this season.
“Some of the kids know I play for Sunderland and it’s generally my form class who ask me who we are playing and how we’ve got on. I don’t really shout about it at school but people do sometimes comment about seeing us top of the league on Sky Sports News – and that is always a great feeling!”
Devine, who teaches at Ashington High School, is now looking for Sunderland to come through their coming examinations with flying colours.
She played in the 2009 FA Cup final for Sunderland against Arsenal and is eager to get to another cup final, as well as lifting the league title next weekend.
“I am really enjoying being back and playing regularly for Sunderland,” she said. “It has been a long season and I have enjoyed being part of it – it will be even more rewarding if we win the cup and league double over the next two weeks!
“I haven’t won these two medals before so it would be a great opportunity and feat if I won them in the same season! In a couple of weeks the season will be over and hopefully I’ll be able to sit there with two winners medals, knowing all the hard work and travelling up and down the country was worth it.
“Playing in the FA Cup final was the highlight of my career. With Arsenal being such a dominant force in the women’s game, there is generally only one space left in the final. We worked hard as a squad and fully deserved our place in the final.
“To be a part of that team and playing in the game was a special moment and to share it with some great friends was a bonus too!”
Sunderland go into tomorrow’s game as favourites against a side from the division below, but there is no complacency in the camp.
“We are strong favourites and with that there always comes pressure,” added Devine, who scored the winning goal in the quarter-final win at Aston Villa. “If we stick to the game plan and work for each other like we do every week, I’m sure we won’t disappoint. It’s one game and the girls will do everything they can to get in the final.
“Our manager (Mick Mulhern) is very meticulous in his preparation and we have already watched videos on Blackburn. Everything we did at training was in preparation for tomorrow.
“We know we are in for a tough game but if we take everything that we’ve prepared for from training, we’ve got an excellent chance.”
Tomorrow’s game kicks off at 2pm. Admission is £3, concessions £1.