Madeline Perry is one of Northern Ireland’s unheralded sporting success stories. Under the publicity radar the 37 year-old remains ranked inside the world’s top twelve squash players and Glasgow will be her fifth Commonwealth Games.
“I’ve surprised myself this year with the level that I’ve reached; I’ve had a great season. Great results, stayed in the top 10, but I think it’s the form I’ve displayed on court, lots of improvement in areas of my game: - fitness, form and strength. It’s been a great year. I’ve always been very professional about how I’ve trained over the past 2-3 years, my strength and conditioning programme has been constant and limited any sports injury. I’m obviously very proud at 37 to be still playing very well,” she explained.
With age comes wisdom and the Commonwealth Games haven’t always been kind to Perry.
Four years ago in Delhi she was seeded to at least make a medal play-off and was two sets up in her quarter-final against Australian Kasey Brown (11-5, 11-6) before losing the next three in agonising fashion (12-14, 9-11, 10-12).
“Yeah it was so hard because I put myself under so much pressure, I mean it only happens every four years and it’s the only time I compete for Northern Ireland and obviously in Delhi I was seeded to play off for a medal and in a position in the quarter finals to win the match and bottled it so I had to live with that for a few months, get it out of my head and work out why it happened. Took me a few months just to work that out, but I soon got over it and moved on.”
She added, “I don’t think it could get any worse than Delhi, so I’ve gone there and done that. Glasgow will be more about enjoyment because it’s my last one. Not necessarily just enjoyment but I have to because not many people get the opportunity to go to the Commonwealth Games. I’ve had a really good career and I have to enjoy it.”
In fact that defeat in Delhi has been the motivation to keep going.
“Years ago I used to say I’ll stop after Delhi, but obviously, Delhi wasn’t great for me and I thought I can’t stop on that one. I knew I couldn’t finish my career on such a low. The last few years I’ve been delighted to do so well, after having such a bad result there. Hopefully Glasgow can be a bit more successful. Nobody owes you anything, but when I look at the other girls on the ranking list, I’m probably one of the very few players who haven’t won a Commonwealth medal. Considering the success I’ve had the past few years on the world tours, it has been a bit unlucky. But I hope to change that in Glasgow.”
The task ahead won’t be easy. In the most recent world rankings, Perry lies 11th but six of the ten women ahead of her are from Commonwealth countries including number 1 Nicole David from Malaysia and second ranked Laura Massaro from England who earlier this year clinched the world title.
Perry explains, “Out of all the sports at the Commonwealth Games, squash must surely be one of the strongest with the highest world ranking professionals there. I’m expecting there to really good crowds in Glasgow and I guess this will showcase, the sport in an intimate arena with a full crowd and what a great sport it is to watch. Hopefully the people in Glasgow will really appreciate it.”
This will be Perry’s last Commonwealth Games and from Kuala Lumper in 1998 through to Glasgow she has enjoyed her career despite the disappointments.
“I’ve actually done more than I ever would have dreamt of in my career. I can’t really ask for that much more. Every time I go on court now I enjoy the battle, I enjoy the tournament and I enjoy the matches. I still enjoy the training as well but I’m not desperately looking to be number three in the world or win a major event because I’ve done that. I think I’ve found a good place in my career and it’s been good fun.”
In Glasgow Madeline will also join forces with 18 year-old Michael Craig from Lisburn in the mixed doubles. Craig, in his first Commonwealth Games and current Irish National Junior Champion, will be Northern Ireland’s representative in the men’s singles.