Lynsey McCullough passing on tips to the next generation

Injuries and surgery may have taken their tolls, but Lynsey McCullough hasn't given up hope of playing tennis at a high level once again
Injuries and surgery may have taken their tolls, but Lynsey McCullough hasn't given up hope of playing tennis at a high level once again

Lynsey McCullough made a huge sacrifice when she packed her bags and headed on her own to Dublin as a 14 year-old to pursue her dream of becoming a full time tennis player.

It didn’t quite turn out the way she had been hoping for despite the fact she went on to represent Ireland at the Federation Cup and become an Ulster champion three times over at the prestigious Boat Club tournament.

She has been under the surgeon’s knife more times than most people in their entire lives after sustaining serious wrist and knee injuries since she returned to Northern Ireland.

Those set backs hampered her development as a player but, at the age of 23, she hasn’t given up hope of playing at international level again.

For now though she is concentrating on coaching and is employed by Ulster Tennis and the Boat Club as well as passing on her experience in private lessons.

Part of her role with the governing body is to facilitate a pathway for aspiring young tennis players to get fixed up with scholarships in the United States where they can combine their education with tennis.

The Ballyclare woman, who is a member of the Larne club, says she may have gone down that route herself earlier in her career had she not made the move to Dublin when dedication - not to mention loneliness - was the name of the game.

Others before her, like Claire Curran, who played at Wimbledon in her prime, took a similar route and travelled south in order to further her career before things went horribly wrong with those injuries taking their toll.

“I probably would have ended up in America had I not decided to go to Dublin to train at the National Tennis Centre at DCU (Dublin City University).” she recalled.

“The university is in the north of the city and I was staying with a tennis family in the south side near Greystones so it wasn’t exactly handy.

“I went to school at St Andrew’s College in Blackrock and in total we trained around 27 hours a week at DCU which entailed a lot of travelling and commitment.

“Three mornings a week I would get up at 6am and spend an hour and a half in the gym, then travel south to go to school.

“After that it was back to DCU for more training from 4 o’clock until 7 o’clock, six days a week and then four hours on a Saturday morning.

“I ended up being completely exhausted and there was no time to even, say, go to the movies let alone party so social life was non-existent.

“It was a routine of get up, train, go to school, train again, go to bed, sleep and then do it all over again so when I was 17 in the equivalent of lower sixth that I decided to go back home which meant going into the Technical College system to continue my education.”

Lynsey’s career began to blossom as her hat trick of Ulster Championship successes coincided with her selection for the Ireland Fed Cup team over a four year period but then disaster struck.

“I tore ligaments in the back of my hand and had surgery on that injury in 2012 with the result that I was hardly able to play at all,” she explained.

“Then a year or so down the line I was doing some squats as part of a warm up routine and I tore the cartilege on my knee so that meant more surgery.

“After that as if it wasn’t enough I had more problems with my wrist and I was diagnosed as having a rare condition known as Keinsbock’s Disease.

“The surgeon said he only ever saw two or three cases of it a year and I had an operation last January so I now have five screws and a plate inside my wrist.

“It was very frustrating because I work in tennis and, at one stage, I couldn’t even feed balls out of the basket when I was coaching.

“But it’s just a matter of being patient, I suppose, and not setting the goals too high because if you do that then you generally end up being disappointed.”

However while her playing career remains on hold Lynsey is enjoying passing on her experience to others as she is now able to coach again as her injury has improved sufficiently.

After her spell in Dublin as teenager she is well used to hard work and her schedule is gruelling on the other side of the fence from the playing arena.

“On Mondays I tend to do private lessons, then on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays it’s club stuff at the Boat Club followed by taking the Colleges squad for three days over the weekend.” she explained.

“With the Colleges we have an intermediary who does all the organisation and she has strong connections with the College system in America.

“Several of the boys and girls are keen to go and it would be a great experience for them to have the opportunity to play tennis at a high level and get an education at the same time.”