By ROD GILMOUR (Squash Mad Correspondent)
There are no shortage of stories to savour when it comes to squash at the Commonwealth Games. Take Niall Engerer, born and bred in Essex and now representing Malta, who took on Paul Coll, the 2018 Commonwealth silver medallist and favourite for the men’s title.
Engerer, 28, was on court for 16 minutes in his 3-0 second round exit to Coll and feared collapsing during his brief foray. But he held his own, creating enough short rally winners, to please not only himself but the cheers of the squash centre here at the University of Birmingham.
“It was tough and a bit of a blur when you’re on there as it’s such a big occasion,” said Engerer, who beat compatriot Kijan Sultana in a Maltese derby in his first match.
“I feel like I did savour the moment and tried not to think about passing out. I tried to entertain and keep the crowd happy.
“Physicality isn’t my strong point these days and I tried to rely on shorter rallies and get in front. I got that six or seven times, but he is a machine. You can’t leave anything out there against him.”
Born in England, Engerer’s father is Maltese and he is now a dual citizen as he builds his coaching career in the Mediterranean.
During his teens, he trained with Paul Carter in Potters Bar and Ben Ford in Bexley and put in his solo work at David Lloyd in Gidea Park, where he also first branched out into coaching.
Engerer played England juniors from aged 12 to 17 before moving into the City and a focus on finance. It was only six years later where he was encouraged to play a match by his team manager at David Lloyd that the squash bug returned.
He admitted: “I lost to someone I didn’t particularly like and that gave me the bit between the teeth to start again. I coached and realised that I could make a career of it and now I’m in Malta!”
Engerer launched a petition to save squash from the hands of Blaze taking over courts at the David Lloyd, a scenario which thankfully has yet to take hold. “We had a rally of support around the club and convinced them to take Blaze somewhere else,” he added. “Fingers crossed the three courts will remain and Dad has taken over my duties at the club.”
The Maltese national coach is now looking forward to a seven-court centre opening next year in Marsa and adds: “We are hopeful of holding WSF and Masters events.”
The island also hopes to hold a PSA Gold event in Valletta next summer. Engerer took over from Maltese-Australian Bradley Hindle and he has now pushed the Maltese squash scene to such an extent that he has 200 juniors playing most weeks.
“We have a strong national league with 20 divisions,” he said, “but what we are lacking is a facility where everyone can be together as one community.
“That’s the challenge now where people can keep coming and not pay through the nose.”
The pressing challenge right now for Engerer was to seek out a massage following his defeat to Coll. He will be competing in the men’s and mixed doubles later in Birmingham.
And with that, with sweat still dripping 20 minutes after his exit, and white towel draped over his shoulder, he was off.
Pictured above: Niall Engerer in action against Kijan Sultana in the first round
Top seed Paul Coll had some kind words to say about his opponent:
“He is a really nice guy. I have never played Niall before – he’s a great character and we had a great time. I won, so I enjoyed it, so hopefully he did as well. It was a cool experience to play in front of so many people on such a great glass court.
“There’s always a few nerves starting the Games but I love pulling on the new Zealand shirt, so I’m going to enjoy these weeks as much as possible as these are the best experiences we get on a squash court.”
On his recent trip back home to compete in the NZ National Championships, Coll added: “It’s so cool. Me and Joelle (King) haven’t been home for three and a half years and we got so much energy from seeing the support back home.
“It was just what we needed after such a long season, to go home, re-energise and start this event with some really good vibes.
“It’s amazing. There’s a lot of people in squash trying their hardest. It’s awesome for us to see their support. I get so many messages from back home but it’s a completely different feeling to be there and experience it.”
Pictures courtesy of WSF and Robert Sultana