Padel steps in to tennis & rugby breach for Claffey
The path leading any new convert to padel can, for want of mixing metaphors, be a long and winding road. But for Ireland’s uber-talented Jenny Claffey it was a route marked by a succession of injuries which stymied a hugely promising professional tennis career and left her Olympic rugby hopes quite literally broken. But then came padel. RJ Mitchell reports.
At the suggestion of her friend Susan McRann, Jenny took up padel earlier this year and – amazingly – secured her place in the Irish squad competing at the recent European Games in Krakow. It’s been a hugely positive move for the Dublin sportswoman, who picked up a tennis racket at the age of four thanks to her tennis coach mum Breeda.
“Tennis was always the dream for me,” Jenny told The Bandeja. “I soon started playing professionally. My highest rankings in singles and doubles were in the 600s but due to injuries I only played for 18 months. An elbow injury ended my tennis career in 2017.
“After that Irish Rugby scouted me and I took up Rugby Sevens with the idea being to make the Olympics but I lasted just six months and during that period broke six bones ranging from fingers to toes, my foot and my nose. I’d never played before and I guess my body just wasn’t hardened enough for the sudden transition to a contact sport like sevens.
“At that point I wasn’t sure what would be next for me but one of my good friends, Susan McRann, who had been playing padel for over a year, kept on having a go at me to play.
“Obviously, as you can imagine, I was reluctant to take it up due to my elbow – I have a tennis coaching business and have to work left-handed due to the elbow issue on the right arm.
“Susan then told me about the Irish trials for the European Games and I love a challenge! I started playing at the start of the year and when the Irish team held trials for Krakow I turned up and just loved it,” added Jenny.
After Jenny and Susan were selected to represent Ireland at June’s European Games they were to experience a sharp learning curve: “The experience itself was absolutely amazing and the opportunity to represent Ireland again at a team event was brilliant. Team Ireland had 120 athletes there and that was tremendous but the level of padel was on a different scale to what we are used to back home. I had never played a competitive match outside of training and it really was a baptism of fire but I don’t do things by half!
“We had a practise match the day before with a Norwegian pair which was really helpful but then we played the No 8 seeded German pair and they were very strong and I just felt in the warm-up that the ball was moving much quicker than we were used to. It took us a set to get into it and we lost the first 6-0 but despite that we were still in it and we went 3-0 up in the second only to lose some concentration. That inexperience cost us and we lost that 6-4. But over all we learned so much from that match and any chance to represent Ireland at a major games is a real honour.”
Yet the Krakow campaign was tinged with disappointment as Jenny explained: “The disappointing thing was that we thought it was a Compass draw and friends and family travelled out expecting to see some padel but it was just a knock-out – so we were one and done and that was disappointing.
“They had literally just built the courts for the event and there was no club there and they had planned to play the matches in the main square which was amazing but unfortunately they only played the semis and final there. I was so disappointed not to even get a practise match or a hit on the square.”
Yet fired up by her first foray into competitive padel, this weekend Jenny is competing on home ground at Bushy Park, Dublin, in one of 30 satellite qualifying events which provide players with an opportunity to gain access into the main draw of the prestigious Veneto Padel Cup in Veneto, Italy, this September.
“After having been part of the Games this gave me a real fire in my belly to kick on and when you are amongst other athletes, well I feel that is where I belong and I just want to play more padel,” said Jenny. “I have family commitments now with my wife expecting a baby in six weeks but if the timing was different I’d give the padel tour a go as I believe that with a bit of time I could really develop.
“But this weekend at Bushy Park we have players coming from abroad to play and I am really looking forward to seeing how I will do against them and hopefully how I can build on Krakow.
“In Ireland right now there are only about 16 courts and so no leagues just yet but by next year I am sure we will have leagues up and it is great that we are already holding events like the VPC. It has been a really exciting time to take up padel and who knows where the journey will take me.”
All of which just goes to show that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! 🎾