SQUASH’S heydays were undeniably back in the 1970s and 1980s when there was an abundance of courts, clubs and leagues.
Since then, the sport has slowly died a death – stained perhaps by being tarred by the yuppy brush – as fashions, lifestyle and exercise habits changed.
However, in recent years, squash, which is great for burning calories, has been undergoing a renaissance of sorts in the north west, with clubs in Ballyshannon and Derry leading the way and a year ago, Jason O’Neill formed Strabane Squash and Racquet Ball Club (See the Facebook page for more details).
Having been involved in the sport for several decades, the Strabane man, who has played for Aer Lingus and Derry City in the past and competes for Foyle Squash in the Ulster League, hopes to develop the new club, which is based in Riversdale Leisure Centre.
As well as being keen to attract new members – it currently has 12 – from across the district and further afield, Jason wants to get to the stage where alongside their Thursday night training sessions (7.30pm-9.30pm), they will have in-house ladders, competitions and eventually be able to compete in the Ulster League themselves.
On Saturday, they took a first step to achieving those goal when entertaining Ballyshannon Squash Club in what was the first competitive squash action in Strabane in a quarter of a century as the home side ran out 5-1 winners.
The encounter may never have happened, though, had it not been for one individual’s proactivity.
“The challenge match against Ballyshannon came about after a guy called Ronan Gallagher left his name and number at reception so I got in contact with him and he came up and played me,” Jason explained.
“After that he asked if I’d be interested in putting my team against theirs and they have a guy called Ivan O’Mahoney, who played interprovincial squash for Cork. He’s revived squash in Ballyshannon and they now have over 50 members.
“He had no idea anyone played squash in Strabane.
“It was really good and there were some very good, close, exciting matches with Strabane winning 5-1 in the end!
“I think they were a bit surprised because they have a big selection of players to pick from and our best six played their best six.”
With court space at a premium in Strabane as well as across the entire north west, Jason acknowledges that developing the sport will be more difficult than he’d like.
However, one thing he’s not lacking is passion for squash and the drive and determination to see his plans come to fruition and anyone interested in getting involved or even just trying the sport is invited to either attend the club’s training sessions or contact Jason via firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’d like to see more younger players involved for the next generation, but with having gone from three courts down to one it’s very hard,” he added