W-League: Canberra United co-captain Ash Sykes announces retirement
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W-League: Canberra United co-captain Ash Sykes announces retirement

Canberra United co-captain Ashleigh Sykes has retired from soccer aged just 26, admitting 10 years at the top level has taken a toll on her desire to play the game.

Sykes' shock decision brings down the curtain on a sparkling career that began as a 16-year-old and ended with two championships.

Canberra United co-captain Ash Sykes has announced her retirement at the age of 26.

Canberra United co-captain Ash Sykes has announced her retirement at the age of 26.Credit:karleen minney

To cap it off, Sykes won the W-League's most coveted prize, the Julie Dolan medal, in 2015-16.

Sykes won't return to the United States to aid the Portland Thorns' National Women's Soccer League title defence, instead remaining in Canberra to work with Capital Football.

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Canberra United captain Ash Sykes.

Canberra United captain Ash Sykes. Credit:Jamila Toderas

Sykes says "almost everyone" tried to talk her out of retirement, believing she had plenty of years left in her, but she was adamant her time had come.

"I guess it is kind of young for retirement but I just decided it was time," Sykes said.

"It's a big commitment to play at a high level and I've really, really enjoyed my time playing at this level. I'm probably more excited about things outside of football than playing football now so I thought now is a good time to step away before it becomes a chore.

"I just towards the end of last year realised that I'd done probably more than I'd ever expected in the game as a kid growing up.

Canberra United's Ashleigh and Nicole Sykes in 2009.

Canberra United's Ashleigh and Nicole Sykes in 2009.Credit:Karleen Williams KJW

"I lost a little bit of drive behind playing the game and decided it was probably time to start exploring other exciting opportunities outside of football."

Sykes wasted no time in announcing she will hang up the boots, with the W-League grand final between Sydney FC and Melbourne City not being played until Sunday.

Canberra United's Ashleigh Sykes celebrates a goal.

Canberra United's Ashleigh Sykes celebrates a goal.Credit:Rohan Thomson

In doing so she could leave Canberra United with no more active foundation players, remembering fondly the day she burst onto the scene alongside twin sister Nicole Begg in the 2008-09 season.

Foundation player Caitlin Munoz returned to the club this season at the age of 34 but she too could go back into retirement.

Sykes laughed "I don't feel 26, I'm starting to feel a lot older - probably about Munoz' age".

She has long been recognised as one of the W-League's most dynamic players, scoring 41 goals in 108 games for Canberra United.

Sykes clinched the W-League's golden boot award in the 2016-17 campaign but only managed four goals in 10 starts in her final season in lime green.

Sykes debuted for the Matildas as a 16-year-old and played 19 games for Australia before she stepped away in 2015 as she struggled with the pressures of international duty.

"To even get that far and be involved in the set-up as much as I did is more than I ever expected," Sykes said.

"Playing 10 years in the W-League and getting to play for the Portland Thorns again was such a high thing on my list, I'm really happy to be able to step away from the game saying I did all that I did.

"It's too hard to put a highlight on it. There's been highs and there's been low moments as well. I think you probably take more from the low moments and grow as a person and as a player.

"That feeds into making the championships and trophies even sweeter. It's been an awesome time here in Canberra."

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Sykes has undertaken a coaching course for her Youth C licence as she continues to work with Capital Football as a game development manager.

She hasn't ruled out the prospect of eventually returning in the Canberra competition, but for now Sykes is looking forward to a well-earned break.