THERE are no miracles in sport, only hard work, dedication and sacrifices.
These are the words of London Olympics Australian swim coach Leigh Nugent but they could equally apply to Albury water polo star Nick Dempsey.
The now 18-year-old is in his second year in Sydney as he chases his dream of playing for the Sharks at a future Olympics.
It means living away from family and friends, 12 training sessions a week while completing the second year of his HSC studies at Newington College, overcoming serious injury and now playing at the highest level in the country.
Last year Dempsey was playing division 2 for Sydney University but during the summer he played every game in division 1 and is now part of a national league squad.
It was very, very tough. We didn’t win a competition game but in training we beat Croatia a couple of times and Germany every time we played them.
In August he heads to Turkey as part of a national team at the under-18 World Championships.
The 188-centimetre centre forward has already had a taste of what’s in store — an international tour midway through last year including games against European powerhouse nations Croatia, Hungary and Germany.
Dempsey says the appointment of Croatian legend Elvis Fatovic as head national coach is a positive for the sport and junior talent.
“A few years ago Australian water polo was among the best in the world but lately we haven’t been going so well. Even the men finishing 8th at the Olympics is not that great,” he said.
“But the new coach has brought the European way of playing to Australia.
“Fatovic says Australians have always been good swimmers and tough, no one wants to play against us but they lack the skills and method of the European countries.
“He brings that knowledge to the senior and junior squads. He has been running the training camps for the junior squads, using the same methods as he does for the men.”
Dempsey said the tour of Europe opened his eyes to the standard of international water polo he will face at the World Championships.
“It was very, very tough,” he said.
“We didn’t win a competition game but in training we beat Croatia a couple of times and Germany every time we played them.
“But it was a team that was playing together for the first time against squads that have been together since they were 12 years old — it is a super strong sport in those countries, where national squads come together four years earlier than anything in Australia.
“In some ways it was just great to be part of a squad that has gone through some pretty big changes in the past 12 months.
“There has been a lot of chopping and changing in the squad — it started out at about 30 to 40, was extended to 50 with the new coach and then cut back to those that went to Europe and will now go to Turkey.”
But Dempsey’s immediate focus is being part of a Sydney University team that will be among the favourites for the national league.
He is also trying to manage a niggling shoulder injury, the opposite shoulder that kept him out of the game for several months.
“There are 20 in the squad with 13 to play in any one game,” he said.
“But getting a start will be tough, I played all summer for the club in the warm-up for the national league but there have been imports now added to the team — one guy has come back from college water polo in the US and another who was in the American national squad and both play my position.”
Despite national and international duties the former Albury Tiger remains loyal to his junior club, playing recently in an A-grade Ovens and Murray game.
“It was great to come back to Albury and have a game without the pressure of Sydney water polo,” he said.
“These are the guys that I grew up with, played with and against — part of the reason I love the game.”
This is Dempsey’s third nomination for the Young Achiever of the Year award.