Sunday 17 December 2017

How squash is making a racquet to get back in big time

Since being a child, Niamh Maher has enjoyed the game of squash. Here she recounts a life-long love affair and meets the man who plays for a living

National Champion and current Irish number 1 Arthur Gaskin
National Champion and current Irish number 1 Arthur Gaskin
Arthur Gaskin in action.

Niamh Maher

'Is that the one with the walls?" That's usually the first question I hear when I tell people I play squash.

A minority sport here in Ireland, squash boasts a small but extremely dedicated following. Despite this, it remains fairly obscure, with few people knowing how the game is played, let alone the health benefits.

I played my first match at 10 years old, but truth be told I can't remember not being around squash courts. My parents took up the sport in their 20s, to keep fit and meet new people, so as young kids my brother and I were lumped on a squash court.

The next 10 years are a blur of tournaments, Irish squads, meal tickets and play-offs. As I approached my 20s, my interest feigned. A shiny, new college life took centre stage and I found myself moving away from the sport .

At 26, I was working away as a journalist, college was a distant memory and I found myself in the midst of a fitness buzz. The squash bug never really went away, so when the time was right I headed back to the courts.

I joined Sutton Lawn Tennis Club in Dublin and was pleasantly surprised to see an abundance of juniors running onto court at every opportunity. The squash scene at Sutton is led by club professional Eoin Ryan; it's a prime example of how the sport can thrive if talent and eagerness is nurtured.

Eoin also runs a junior academy for elite players, and his son David and daughter Stephanie both have European rankings. With just three courts but big plans for redevelopment, Sutton Lawn Tennis Club has the potential and the right people to lead the way for squash in Ireland.

In my quest to learn more about how squash has changed in the last decade, I sat down with National Champion and current Irish number 1 Arthur Gaskin

A Dublin native who moved to Carlow at age 12, tennis was Arthur's first passion. Luckily enough, the resurfacing of courts at his local club pushed him onto a squash court.

Arthur has spent the past 10 years travelling the world on the Professional Squash Association tour, and is now settled in New Jersey coaching kids while still playing competitively.

Turning professional at 19, by his own admission it takes a lot to go pro. "Commitment is the main thing," he admits. "You have to sacrifice that typical lifestyle enjoyed by most 18- and 19-year-olds. You also need drive and the ability to push yourself every day, as no one else will. You must be strong, powerful and quick."

So what would a typical training week in the life of a pro squash player look like? "A couple of strength sessions a week, plenty of hitting, variation between coaching and practice matches as well as drilling routines," Arthur says. "During the season intervals are extremely important. Short bursts of speed and power... all of this and throw in some yoga for good measure".

I was taken aback by this – I never associated yoga with squash. "It's great for squash," Arthur explained. "Yoga helps open up the hips, which is important due to the nature of the sport. Squash asks a lot of questions physically and can definitely take its toll on the body. As a result, yoga and massages are essential."

Squash missed out on an Olympic bid last year. One of the reasons is that it has been described as a tough viewing sport. "I 100pc disagree," Arthur says. "Technology is coming on leaps and bounds when it comes to viewing squash, and with a dedicated platform such as Squash TV you get to experience the action up close and personal. World-class players are transitioning to commentating now and with replays and eagle-eyed views, you can almost smell the sweat." Well that told me!

So what would he say to people who may be interested in squash? "Do it! Squash gives you a full-body workout in a short space of time. You easily burn far more calories during a 40-minute squash game than you ever would in the gym," he adds.

"It's far more stimulating than a treadmill – the health benefits are endless and at the end of the day, it's good fun."

It seems, then, that squash hasn't changed that much in the past 10 years.

It still flies under the radar, when it comes to media coverage in Ireland. It still has fiercely passionate individuals flying the flag and championing the sport at every opportunity, and with clubs such as Sutton paving the way, a massive resurgence could easily be on the cards in the near future.

For anyone with a competitive edge looking to get that little bit extra out of sport, I implore you to pick up a squash racquet, head to your local club and leave the shuttlecock at home.

Niamh Maher is the director of news at Classic Hits 4FM. Catch her on the Brighter Breakfast with Jim McCabe every morning from 6 am -

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