Friday 23 March 2018

Let's all play squash

In an effort to get more women moving, former Irish squash champion Orla O'Doherty Brown recently launched the Women Who Squash project. Our reporter meets four young ladies who took up the sport at different ages, and learns that as well as the myriad health benefits the game has to offer, it also brings a sense of community

Members of the Irish Ladies Squash Team: Sophie O'Rourke (back row left) Hannah Craig (back row right) Breanne Flynn (front row right) and Sarah Corcoran (front row left) photographed training in WestWood Sports Centre, Leopardstown. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Members of the Irish Ladies Squash Team: Sophie O'Rourke (back row left) Hannah Craig (back row right) Breanne Flynn (front row right) and Sarah Corcoran (front row left) photographed training in WestWood Sports Centre, Leopardstown. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

When an ESRI report revealed in 2005 that just one in five Irish women were meeting the National Activity Guidelines of 30 minutes of exercise a day, the Irish Sports Council stepped up with the Women in Sport programme. By 2013, this figure had increased to one in three, with reports of 43pc of women taking part in regular sport at least once a week.

Similarly, the Women Who Squash project was recently launched to increase female participation in squash at every level, by former US and Irish champion Orla O'Doherty Brown. With proposed benefits of improved cardiovascular health, increased strength, fitness, flexibility and the prospect of burning up to 700 calories in just one 40-minute game, it is not difficult to see the sport's growing appeal.

Here's how the Irish women's national squash team got started in their beloved sport.

Sophie O'Rourke (15) from Bishopstown in Cork:

"I started when I was 10. I did some Munster competitions the first year and the following year then I started doing Irish competitions. I love it. People ask me how much I train and if it is hard work, but it's really not; some of the training is hard, like the fitness and all of that, but I honestly enjoy it so much that it doesn't feel like work to me.

"During the year I will play six to seven times a week. Most of my friends did some sport a couple of years ago, but literally after first year the number halved. It's amazing how people just drop off once they reach secondary school. I want to become a professional. I want to be number one in the world, that is my aim."

Breanne Flynn (21) from Howth, Co. Dublin:

"I got into squash when I was about 11 and I just started playing once a week with a couple of friends, then I got some coaching. From there I started playing in regional tournaments in Ireland, becoming more competitive, and as I went on through secondary school I played lots of tournaments in Ireland and around Europe.

"I got a European ranking and began representing Ireland at the home internationals and European championships. It progressed from only playing once a week to very quickly playing a lot.

"I got a scholarship to play squash in the US, so I go to George Washington University in Washington DC and I play squash for their team. I am going into my final year this year.

"I train two to three hours a day, five days a week and at the weekends we go travelling to play other universities on the east coast. Two or three times a week we do strength and conditioning sessions in the gym and do weight-lifting and strength-training as well as the hours on the court as well.

"I think it would be great if more people could get to know the sport of squash in Ireland because it is so much fun and so good for your fitness. It is a really quick workout as well, 40 minutes and you are done."

Sarah Corcoran (26) from Thurles, Tipperary:

"My dad used to play squash back in the 80s. There are two squash courts in the Thurles Golf Club, which is literally five minutes from my family home, so I started off there. My dad had me on the court from a very young age; I was probably only the size of the racquet, and it all went from there.

"There was a coach there, Gerry Connaughton, he nurtured me further and I kept playing on and off for a few years. I played in my first official squash tournament at about the age of 12.

"I don't understand why squash isn't more popular than it is already here because it is a great sport for Ireland; being indoors it's not weather dependent. One of the nice things about it not being as popular a sport though is that means that the people who are playing it are all very passionate and there is a very tight community there.

"If I could, I would play every day of the week.

"Being on the Irish team wasn't something that I ever really set out to do, I wanted to play and I wanted to try and keep improving; then I started winning and getting on teams and getting involved in the coaching sessions as well. Once you get a feel for it, you want to keep going and see how far you can go.

"I would love to see more people getting involved. I've seen all ages playing. I used to play quite often with a guy who was 70 and he was flying it."

Hannah Craig (17) from Belfast:

"I started playing squash properly when I was about 10, but I played a bit before that too. I have two older brothers and they both play, so that's how I got into it. There would have been only really four or five girls in my club when I started and they wouldn't have played competitively.

"It's been so exciting because you get to travel as well with it and see so much. Spain was my first international trip and since then I have been to Poland, England, Wales, Holland and Germany, playing in European tournaments.

"I play usually two to three hours a day and have one rest day a week. This year I hope to play on the senior team more and then I am considering going over to America to play college squash. That is what my brother did; he got a good scholarship over there. After college I would like to go pro for a couple of years and see what it's like."

5 benefits of squash

1. You can burn over 700 calories in 45 minutes.

2. You don’t have to be an experienced athlete to enjoy the sport.

3. Some girls start playing as young as age 3 and continue well into their senior years.

4. It is never too late to start playing. I just began a 12-week Squash Fit session in Portmarnock and 10 women signed up, most in their mid-40s.

5. You become part of a community that is as diverse as it is fun and rewarding. You form friendships that will last a lifetime.

– Orla O’Doherty Brown

* Women’s week runs from the September 16-25. For details find #womenwhosquash on facebook

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