Monday 19 March 2018

Magee eyes World gold after move to leave singles life behind reaps European reward


Chloe Magee has been on a roll since teaming up with brother Sam. Photo: Sportsfile
Chloe Magee has been on a roll since teaming up with brother Sam. Photo: Sportsfile

Barry Lennon

For Chloe Magee, who learned her trade in a Presbyterian church hall, badminton isn't a sport, it's almost a religion.

The Donegal Olympian has Raphoe Badminton Club to thank for defending that 'faith', when the building came under threat in 1996.

Club members locked the 19th-century hall's gates and used a slurry tanker to block out contractors, coming to develop the club's home into a community resource centre.

They were ultimately successful, allowing Magee and the seven siblings, two of whom would write history, to continue learning their trade in the club.

Chloe and her brother Sam claimed Ireland's first European Championship medal, when winning mixed-doubles bronze in April.

The medal, quickly followed by the duo winning the Spanish International title and the German league, justified the 28-year-old's decision to put her singles career on hold.

"My focus has always been on the singles when trying to qualify for the Olympics. Mixed was always the second choice," she says. "I'm getting older now. My body is just not letting me do two events. It's very tough to do both.

"So, after the Rio Olympics, I wanted to put my sole focus on one event. Mixed doubles is something myself and Sam have always done very well in."

Dad Sam snr encouraged all the Magees to take up a racquet, which Chloe credits to her success.

"If I didn't have my older brothers to play against and beat me as many times as they did, I don't think I'd be as good as I am," she adds.

"I was lucky I was one of the younger ones and I had loads of people to play against, I think that was a big factor in being one of the better girls in the country."


This gave new coach John Quinn a good foundation when he began working with the Magee duo. He'll hope to keep them on this purple patch when the World Championships begin on Monday in Glasgow.

Magee praises his "calming influence" at the European Championships, but knows his very presence was a luxury in a sport often strapped for cash.

Her best singles ranking was world No 32, her equivalent number in tennis Carla Suarez Navarro won $548,679 (€467, 697) prize money this year. Chloe and Sam won $27,831 (€23,705).

Sponsors and grants help plug the gap - but tough decisions still have to be made.

"We do try and have John at as many tournaments as we can. But with funding and stuff we can't have him at every tournament," she admits.

"Money is everything. And if we send a coach to a tournament, somebody will miss out on a tournament somewhere else or the juniors will miss out on something."

She is no stranger to adversity. A 17-year-old Magee moved to Sweden from Donegal as soon as the ink was dry on her Leaving Cert exam papers to pursue a full-time badminton career.

Limerick man Tom Reidy invited her to Scandinavia, after becoming a coach there at the end of his career (during which he represented the USA at the 1992 Olympics).

"At the time it was very, very scary but it turned out to be very good," she recalls. "I played with a club that was an hour and half away from Gothenburg. They made me part of all their sessions and I got free coaching. All I had to do was play for the club."

Magee since returned to Ireland and now lives in Dublin between tournaments, but Co Donegal remains "home".

She admits she doesn't get back as often as she'd like to see family or her boyfriend and Finn Harps centre-back Packie Mailey in Finn Park.

"If I can get up to Finn Park then I will but it's not too often during the year. He's quite often down here in Dublin so it's easier to scoot across," she says.

Irish badminton has benefited greatly from Magee making the last three Olympics - and she and Sam aim to make Tokyo for the first time together.

"It's strange every day you're getting a call from different journalists (during an Olympics)," she says. "It's tough to do every day but you're happy your sport is getting coverage. The more media pick up on it the more kids get involved."

Some of it is unwelcome. Magee hit back at the late broadcaster Bill O'Herlihy during the 2012 Games for calling the sport "a mostly Protestant game."

"Sport in general is for everyone. I don't think we should judge anybody or anything on religion, it's badminton it's for everybody," she reflects.

After all, the sport is almost a religion.

Irish Independent

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