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Peard proves to be court queen

Sporting Lives: Sue Peard

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Sue Peard with the All England Trophy she won outright after taking four doubles titles with her sister Judy Hashman

Sue Peard with the All England Trophy she won outright after taking four doubles titles with her sister Judy Hashman

Sue Peard with the All England Trophy she won outright after taking four doubles titles with her sister Judy Hashman

After badminton in Ireland was officially established in 1899, was your family involved?

Dad's mother played in the RDS early on - there was a court there at some point, so there was a racquet in the house. Dad, who was born in 1900, began playing at the age of 10 or 11. He had contracted osteomyelitis and, in those days before antibiotics, he had part of his heel taken off. He would hop around on one leg hitting the shuttle at a wall from his bed trying to get between the pictures that were hanging there. It gave him fantastic accuracy. He then joined a club in Monkstown and played twice a week after school. He began winning titles around 1921 and won 17 All England titles in all.

How did the family end up in the USA?

Dad had moved to England in 1921. He never spoke of that period of his life. What we do know is that his father worked for the Local Government Board, which was seen as British, and one day, dad was stopped by the IRA and threatened. He went to England and stayed there for ten years, working as some sort of salesman in the automobile trade. That's when he was playing his best badminton. Our mother Grace Steed was a good tennis player who got into the Wimbledon women's doubles with a friend; her family was related to the Awdry family who were behind the Thomas the Tank Engine books.

In 1930, when dad made a trip to Canada with a British and Irish team, he was offered a coaching job in Winnipeg. By then he knew his playing career was coming to an end, so we moved there in 1931, just after I was born; my sister Judy was born later in October 1935 and about a year later we moved to Baltimore in the USA. He was one of the first professional badminton coaches and he was fabulous as a coach; he made things simple and didn't get cross.

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Judy Hashman, Sue Peard and Frank Devlin on the 1950s quiz show ‘I’ve Got A Secret’

Judy Hashman, Sue Peard and Frank Devlin on the 1950s quiz show ‘I’ve Got A Secret’

Judy Hashman, Sue Peard and Frank Devlin on the 1950s quiz show ‘I’ve Got A Secret’

There was reasonable interest in badminton on the east coast of America and a number of private clubs looking for coaches; the famous Du Pont family, for example, owned a court in New Jersey.

Did you play other sports as a teenager?

Judy and I played tennis and were ranked third in the USA at one stage. We played in the US Ladies Championships when they were played in Boston. We also played lacrosse and hockey - we represented the USA in lacrosse, in one case playing a team from Britain, which included one woman from Wexford. I kept up lacrosse which I loved - I'm very left handed so hockey didn't suit me, especially since I played right back. I didn't enjoy it so I gave it up.

When I went to Goucher College to study physiology and bacteriology, I was going here and there from one lab to another so I didn't have much time for sport. After I got my degree in 1953, I then worked for six years mostly at John Hopkins University.

What was the badminton scene like when you were growing up?

Everything was different: the training regimes, the trips to competitions, the conditions in courts.

I remember a trip to Aberdeen for a match between Ireland and Scotland where there were no changing rooms and it was unbelievably cold. Even the Scottish players were shivering.

When we went to play a tournament, for instance in Toronto several hundred of miles away from Baltimore, we would drive there, play our matches and then drive back often very late because we would have been in the final. One year I remember a tremendous snow storm. Very often I was going into work the next morning.

When Ireland played Denmark in the very first Thomas Cup in 1948, my husband Frank was on the team. It took them three days to get there - the ferry to England, then the drive across England, another ferry to the Netherlands, I think, and then another drive. And then they lost their match 0-5 - and had to drive home again!

How did you meet Frank Peard?

Judy and I had won our first senior US doubles title in 1953 and David Bloomer, who was organising a tournament in Glasgow called the Scottish World Invitational, saw us as two promising young players - and the name Devlin didn't hurt! He then talked the organisers of the All England Championships into sharing the expense of bringing us over. It was very exciting!

Also invited to Glasgow were the best English, Danish and Irish players, among them Frank and his doubles partner Jim Fitzgibbon, who were ranked first or second in Europe then. We lost our first match but everything was so new and different that we didn't really mind. We then watched Iris Rogers and June White, the best English pair at the time, with Frank and Jim giving us an added commentary on their match. When we played them the next week at the All Englands, we beat them and won the title; Judy also won the singles. I liked doubles because I preferred working with someone else. Judy played singles as well and she became the best in the world, winning over 80 national and international titles.

We always made an effort to watch players to figure out their weaknesses and strengths - players don't seem to do that anymore. I remember much later watching some of the first Chinese players to emerge in the early 1980s - Ying Lin was one - and wishing we'd had a chance to play them because I could see a way to beat them!

Frank was then working for Guinness and since Americans were supposed to be so good at management, he decided to take a year off to study their methods and came over to Boston, where he suffered badly from the cold. He bought a car and drove all the way to California where it was warmer. We got married in 1960.

At Irish level, what was your most memorable win?

At one Irish Open, I was paired with Lena McAleese from Northern Ireland in the doubles and we won, beating an English pair in the semi-finals and another English pair in the final. Lena, who had never won anything until then, got so excited that we had to haul her out of the shower because she'd forgotten to take off her bra and pants before she got in!

My best year as a player was 1959. At the All Englands, I beat both the Asian and European No 1 players but then lost to Heather Ward of England in the semi-finals and so lost the chance of playing Judy in the final.

I won three All Englands after moving to Ireland. The last one I played was in 1969 - by then I had taken Irish nationality. Since I envisaged living here for a while, and I was half Irish anyway, I wanted to play for Ireland.

What were the big changes you noticed when you came to Ireland?

It was cold! In Baltimore, houses were warm. Badminton was different in the USA - there were no clubs or leagues. In winter, we would play every week when we were first learning. Our father knew quite a few wealthy people and several had their own courts. We had the opportunity to play on them with our father at weekends. As adults, we played with a couple of fellows who were useful players, quick on their feet, although neither had a big smash which suited us. We had to work hard to win a point. Our father would watch all four of us playing and gave us advice. Always have your feet in the right place, he used to say.

Coaching was different - there was no coaching during matches for instance. The view was that if you didn't know what to do by then, coaching wouldn't help you.

Did you travel much?

Judy won the singles at the German Open four times, and I remember one German Open which didn't go well. I had a horrible cold and flying over I burst an eardrum. Judy couldn't eat the German food, so she had no energy. In the final we were playing Danish sisters - so it was sisters against sisters. We lost but it was more because mentally we played the wrong game. We won three Canadian Opens, with the first in 1957. After we won at the Dutch Open in 1964, we were invited to the Swedish Open and I could have gone but the children - our daughter Pam and son Mark - were small and I didn't like to leave them. Judy won the singles, and for the doubles, she played with Mary Bryan, one of the best Irish players at the time, and they won. At the Irish Open, we won the doubles three times.

Did you ever play against each other in the Uber Cup - the world team championships for women, which started in 1957 and was held every three years?

No - we never played each other. In 1957, the final against Denmark was in England and we were both on the winning American team. In 1960, we were again on the winning American team that beat Denmark. Ireland had gone out to Denmark in the qualifying round. I played for Ireland from 1963, along with players like Mary Bryan and Yvonne Kelly.

What did you do after you stopped playing?

I started coaching. In the USA, my father had started kids groups and I had helped out. When I heard there was nothing here for kids that first season after we married, I offered to do something over the Christmas holidays. That's how juvenile training started and from that came players like John Taylor and Wendy Orr. Next thing we organised a youths activities committee and I was the first chair of that. We also brought badminton into the schools.

What has sport meant to you?

It has given me balance and the ability to get on with people. I was involved in sport all my life and only finished up with coaching a few years ago. Although I hadn't expected it, since I had usually coached more competitive players, I found coaching at club level interesting - you come across very different people who simply want to be better and to enjoy their sport. For many years, I coached a ladies' group in Leixlip and I found it hugely enjoyable and made great friends. My only dinner outing so far during Covid was to meet some friends from Lucan Badminton Club.