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Tuesday, 18 August 2020

World Chapmpionship ,A Few Thoughts

 Well as we all emerge from our 17 days inside the snooker watching bubble to find sadly that the world hasn't changed a whole lot, I just thought I'd note a few things that stood out for me over the two weeks.So here goes.

1. The Champ

There reallly is only one place to start isn't there & thats with the newly crowned six time world champion.

Such was the effect that his loss to Selby in the 2014 final seemed to have on Ronnie, I , like many others thought the chances of him adding to his previous five world titles were slim.This was borne out  by some pretty insipid performances here since. The first signs that things might be different this year came in his second round match with Ding.This was a close match against one of the games other big names, but unlike in recent years he found a way to win it & then did the same against Williams in the last 8.We'll talk about the semi final later ,but his performance again on day 2 of the final was superb.He may conatantly talk down hw much these big wins mean to him,but make no mistake.equalling the record of his childhood idol Steve Davis will be very special for him.

2. The Defending Champ

Often the crown on a first time world champ weighs heavy throughout the next season & they struggle to produce their best snooker.That certainly was not the case this season for Judd Trump who, if anything, grew into role and dominated the year picking up a record 6 ranking along the way. He seemed to be riding the crest of a wave all the way to breaking the legendary "Crucible Curse" ,but then a global pandemic struck.The great inponderable for Judd willl be, what would haven happened if the tournament had been played as normal in April?, because since action resumed he hasn't looked the same player. His title defence here never really got going  here & he only really limped past Tom Ford & Yan Bingtao ,before Wilson proved far too strong in the quarter final. It will be interesting to see just how he bounces back from this when the new season begins. 

3. Underperforming Big Names

Once again a number of the big names failed to produce on the games biggest stage.First round defeats for Mark Allen ( who admittedy did knock in 5 centuries) Stephen Maguire & Shaun Murphy,who to be fair obviously wasn't there mentally after the recent death of his former manager & friend. Ding Junhui was perhaps a bit unlucky to run in to Ronnie in Rd2  just as he was just showing signs of  finding some form. Neil Robertsons woes continued at the Crucible & its a glaring omission from his otherwise stellar cv that he's never again even  reached the final since his victory in 2010.

4. Emerging Talent?

I think it says a lot for where the game has now got to that a world semi final between Wilson (28) & McGill (29) is seen as a battle of the "young guns" As so often is the case when Ronnie speaks, his over the top way of saying things & the resultant hysteria often belie the more serious point he is making. There are no doubt a lot of talented players down the rankings, but I'd struggle to name any who I could say with certainty would make the leap to the very top. 

5. The Controversies

It wouldn't be a world championship if there wasn't a bit of controversy along the way and the first incident here happened before a ball was even struck.

Having battled his way through qualifying to reach the Crucible for the first time in 12 years, Anthony Hamilton withdrew from the championship on health grounds over fears of the crowd been let in to see the the matches.Anthony has asthma, as well as far as I know is living with his eldery parents & ,quite rightly in my opinion, saw the letting in of crowds  ,all be they limited, as an unnecessary risk. 

Obviously someone withdrawing so close the the event is ot ideal, but the reaction of Barry Hearn left a real sour taste in the mouth. He accused Hamilton of  playing the qualifiers with no intention of ever playing at the venue & thus denying someone a rightful place. He repeated this on every media platform that would give him the space to do so & even took to twitter to take on any of Hamiltons fellow pros who dared support him.

The work Hearn has done to get snooker back to where it is has been phenomenal & getting this event on in the middle of a global pandemic was perhaps his biggest achievement, but that said , every so often  the mask just slips a bit to show a pretty nasty guy.

The arguments didnt stop there & we had "Line of sightgate" between McGill & Jamie Clarke.This was pretty much storm in a teacup stuff & probably boiled down to Clarkes lack of experience in the venue & McGill. like all of us when we're struggling, finding every little thing annoying.It was a pity it blew up the way it did & seemed to have effect Clarke for the rest of that session.

The other big controvery which lit up twitter the other night was the comments of Mark Selby after his defeat in that extraordinary semi filal with Ronnie. Selby accused Ronnie of disrespecting both him & the game with his rather unorthodoxed way of escaping some of the snookers he laid.

Two things with this. Firstly whether he felt this or not, this was not the time to express it & it just had a air of sour grapes about it, Secondly there was no disrespect here to either him or the game. What Ronnie did was exorcise some  of those 2014 demons where he allowed Selby bog him down. Here he made a conscious  decision to go out on his own terms. (Anyone who watched his brilliant Q&A's with Hendry during lockdown will have heard his views on that final) In doing so he may have lost a couple of big frames, but  he kept his momentum  & backed himself to score if he got the chance. he then produced a stunning burst of three frames that will long live in the memory.

6. BBC Coverage

Eyebrows were raised when it was announced in the week before the championship that Hazel Irvine wouldn't be part of the team for this year,but we really shouldn't have worried. I think the coverage this year was superb. Jason Mohammad  really grew in to his role as main presenter, bringing a perfect mix of in depth analysis from the pundits & also throwing in some  good fun too. Also excellent was Seema Jaswal & Radzi who brought a real infectious enthusism to proceedings.

7.Those Semi finals!

Last Friday has been hailed as the most exciting day in snooker since the '85 final & it's hard to argue. Plenty has been written about both so I'm not going to rehash them,but I think the most notable thing here was the amount of texts & Whatsapps I got from people on friday who would not be big snooker people.This is what snooker & in particular the world championship brings.That long unfolding drama,with two players with nowhere to hide leaving  everything on the table. Its why snooker makes the blood flow through our veins and the hair on back of our necks stand like no other sport can!!

Conclusion "Born to Run"

Finally in my life I have been lucky enough to see Bruce Springsteen live on a number of occasions & I  always felt the highlight & lowlight of every gig is hearing "Born to Run"Its the highlight because its my favourite song & the lowlight, because once its over I wont hear it again. The secret of course is to try not to think of it in either of those terms & to just enjoy it & savour it in the moment.  I think we also need to look at Ronnie that way & instead of constantly talking about the record books & arguing over who is the GOAT, lets instead enjoy the now with our own "Rock & roll star".Long may he reign.

Monday, 18 May 2020

The Games Greatest ,My Two Cents

In the absence of actual snooker to talk about in recent weeks & following an interview with Barry Hearn, the corner of twitter that the sport inhabits  has been alught with people discussing their all time top 10's. So I decided , I may as well dust off the old blog & throw my own opinon in to the mix.

Two quick things before I start, Firstly in these old pub arguments, with so many variables, there can be no definitive right or wrong answer,We can all just offer our own opinions & everyones is as valid as everybody elses, (the one exception here is Michael Mcmullen, who in the recent SnookerScene Podcast was just way off the mark!!) Secondly, my top 10 is taken purely from players I've seen in my lifetime.I am too young to remember Ray Reardon & John Spencer in their prime,so I have left both out of this list.

So anyway lets begin.

10. Mark Selby
A controversial one to start with, putting the three times world champion & long time no.1 so low on the list, but if I'm honest, as a player , there are probably 10 or more I'd rank as at least his equal. the thing that seperates Selby from them is his unbelievable big match temprament. Time and time again he has dug a victory out of nowhere & if you could bottle his bottle, you would be a very rich man. He is an exapmle of what hard work can achieve & an example to any budding snooker player.

9. Judd Trump

As always with these things, the placings are a movable feast, so in a few years time, there is every probability that Trump will be higher than ninth,but for now that is where I rank him. Trumps career has been a curious one of false dawns. As a young teenager ,such was his reputation, that many expected him to do "a Ronnie" and blitz his way on to the circuit,but it didn't quite happen that way. It wasnt until he won the China Open in 2011 & followed it with  world final appearence the following month, that he really arrived as top pro. He followed that up with the UK title that december & it looked like he could go on to dominate the sport for a decade, but again it just didn't happen.

 It wasnt until about 18 months ago. when he made a few changes to his backroom team, including bringing in his brother that he finally started to become the player he's always threatened to be. Far from the world crown weighing heavy on his head, he has instead kicked on, with 6 ranking titles this season & with the combination of his main rivals, not getting any younger, plus no real threat coming through behind, we may well be facing into that decade of dominance I talked about earlier. Time will disclose all.

8.Ding Junhui
if this were a list of the games most influential players, Ding would proably rank a lot higher , such has been his role in the rise of the sports popularity in his home country. This is probably best summed up in the tweet last yr from legendary athlete Michael Johnson, who expressed surprise on a trip to China, that the answer he lept getting to his " who is yur biggest sports star" was a snooker player. His breakthrough victory over Hendry, to win the China Open, while still an amateur propellled him to stardom. The huge weight of expectation placed on him from his adoring fans has not always rested easyily on him, but there is no doubt that he has been a trailblazer for his country & when he has produced his best,there have been few more beautiful breakbuilders in the game.  The one big omission from his cv is the world title, but even if his career finishs without  that wrong been righted, he is by far the best player we have seen emerge from that part of the world & even with so many now coming behind him, they will have to be very special indeed to overtake his achievments in the game.

7. Alex Higgins
Ok , I know! , If i'm not including Reardon because he was past his prime when I started watching snooker how can I include Higgins? Well I suppose the answer is that, although Higgins best days were indeed behind him when the sport came on my radar, I still saw enough glimpses of his genius to appreciate how good he was. The phrase " his own worst enemy" could have invented to describe Alex ,but that should never take away from the snooker player he was. When Alex decided to put it all in to the game, he was simply superb. That 69 break againt Jimmy in '82 will forever be part of snooker folklore. I was lucky enough to be at Goffs in 1989 , where still limping after a broken ankle, he produced a wonderful display to beat Hendry in the final for what turned out to be his last hurrah. Such was his genius, I just don't think I could have this list without him on it

6.Jimmy White
For a generation of snooker fans ,watching Jimmys attempts to claim his elusive world title have scarred them for life,but perhaps , as big a sadness is that his career has been defined by that failure. Reaching 6 world finals in the first place is a phenomenal achievement & when you look at a career haul of around 30  titles , you start to get a picture of how good he was. He is probably the only player to really span the Davis to Hendry era's & was just unlucky, that for about a 10 yr period,  he was the second best in the world behind both.

5. Mark Williams
Into the top 5  then & the first mention of the graduates of the class of '92. Williams, by any measure , has had a superb career. His victory in the 2018 world championship was a sporting fairytale after his career had seemed in terminal decline when hed failed to qualify just 12 months previously. His laid back demeanor belies a ruthless competitor & there have been few better than the Welshman at winning the scrappy frames. For a couple of seasons around the turn of the century he was practically unplayabe. I remeber in 2000, following a second successive Crucible semi final defeat to Williams, John Higgns exclaimed he didnt know what else he could do, that hed played as well as he ever could and had fallen short again.
As can be said about the other members of the '92 club that I've yet to come to, How much would they have won without the other two around?

4. John Higgins
 Into the top 4 or as it might be known, the Mt. Rushmore of the sport. When it comes to matchpay snooker John Higgins there may be equal,but there have been none better the the "Wizard of Wishaw". He has always been granite around the table and if you needed someonw to clear the table to save your life ,your first call would be to this man. The one mystery in his career was the 9 years between his first & second world titles, but once he got his second wind ,he wasnt long rectifying that, with two more following in quick succession.  One of the joys of my snooker watching life was a match between him & Ronnie at Goffs in the late '90's. I had a standing ticket & positioned myself on the upper level looking directly down at the table. the exhibition of break building & cueball control I saw that nght will always stay with me. Higgins is one of those players that its a pleasure to watch constructing a break, & equally watchable in a safety battle , because he just comes up with the most exquisite shots. The evidence of the last three finals suggest another world title might be just out of his reach now, but I would love to see him lift another one.

3. Stephen Hendry
I suppose its a sign I'm getting older, that while I'm still banging the drum for the Davis era, there is a whole generation now who don't remember the Hendry one.Make no mistake though, (& as a Davis fan how I hated him) Stephen Hendry was for a period as close to unbeatable as you could get. In the early'90's in particular he cast a shadow over the rest like we will proably never see again. he didn't just walk around the table ,he prowled! A superb long potter & break builder, it was almost the worst thing you could ,to leave him with no choice but to try pot something ,His record of titles speaks for itself. The main reason I place him third behind the two I will list ahead of him is ,i think his one failing was his lack of a real "B game" , he rarely won ugly. Now in the '90's it can be reasonalby argued he played so well so often he didn't need one & in truth he prob was just too stubborn in his approach to develop one, but it is still a black mark against him & possibly a contributing factor in what looked a premature retirement.

2. Steve Davis
It has become fashionable in recent years to put down the standard of play in the '80's, but to do so belittles some excellent players & none more so than "The Nugget". If Hendry cast a shadow over the rest in the '90's ,then we are talking about Davis as a sort of solar eclipse in the 80's. A well honed technique, a religious dedication to practice & a ruthless streak when it came to winning ,saw him become one of the most famous sportsmen in th world. What set him apart from others though was his almost childlike fascination with the game. He seemed to see every frame as a puzzle that needed to be solved and so every challenge was exciting. In his latter career he still had moments that served to remind people how good he was, be it his comeback victory over an on fire O'Sullivan to win 1997 Masters, reaching the 2005 UK championship final or beating reigning champion John Higgins, to reach the Crucible quarters in 2010. i have to say nothing in this sport annoys me more than people failing to respect just how good Steve was.

1.Ronnie O'Sullivan
There really isn't anyone who disputes this anymore is there? Not only is Ronnie the greatest snooker player we have seen , or are ever likely to see, he is also possibly the most natural sporting genius we will ever see in any sport. From winning that first UK at 17, to still producing the standard he is now 27 years later says it all. yes there have been stumbles along the & times when his life off the table has threatened to overtake his career on it, but time & time again he has managed to successfully steer things around. The one stick that people have left to beat him with has been his failure to beat Hendrys haul of 7 world titles,but at this stage, I don't think the fact that Hendry enjoyed a couple more good fortnights in Sheffield is enough measured against everything  else Ronnie has done.

So there you have it. I'm sure many will disagree with my choices, but they are my opinions.Feel free to disagree in the comment section here or on Twitter.

Monday, 16 December 2019

As one decade ends, Thoughts on what the next one might bring

As the final trophy of the decade was held aloft by Mark Selby last night, thoughts inevitably strayed back to what the last ten years have meant in the game & indeed,what the next ten years might bring.So I decided to dust off the old blog and share some of those thoughts.

Before looking forward then,a brief look back.

When you consider the depths the sport had sunk to At the start of the century,its quite remarkable to see it such rude health today and of course that is down to the genius of one man,Barry Hearn.

Without going in to too much detail the headlines speak for themselves,More tournaments in more places than ever before,with in total 54 more ranking titles on offer this decade compared to the previous one,an increase in prizemoney from £3.5 million to over £!6 million with the promise of more to come & a bigger world wide audience watching the sport than ever before,there really hasn't ever been a better time to be a professional snooker player.

Yes not everything has been perfect, the flat 128 format is not to everyones liking,the shortening of the matches in the UK Championship has knocked some of the sheen of a once great tournament & it'll be a cold day in hell before I recognise the Shoot Out as a ranking event,but the positives far outweigh any negatives and you shudder to think where we'd be if "Bazza" hadn't won that vote!

The other main change in the last decade has been the rise in the average age of the tournament winners. the accepted wisdom of the last 25 years.of this been a young mans game,has been shattered as 40 became the new 20.The reason for this are two fold.Firstly, in the past the thing that happened as players got older was their appetite for practice diminished,With so many tournaments now, players are in a constant state of match fitness, so the hard hours down the club have taken slightly less relevance. The other reason,is sadly a real lack of top talent coming through at the younger end of the scale.

So where does this leave as we look ahead to the "20's"

The Class of '92  have continued to thrill us much longer than any of us could have expected,but tide or time wait for no man & with Williams seemingly already slipping in to semi retirement,Ronnie missing more than he is playing this season & Higgins still fighting valiantly,to the point of yet  another cue change,to try and find some consistency again,the end for this remarkable trio could be appearing soon on the horizon. That said I would be shocked if, before they do eventually leave the the stage, they didn't all have another title or two in them with a fair chance Ronnie could still add to his Triple Crown tally

Also heading towards the veteran stage of their careers as the new decade beckons are former triple crown winners Selby, Robertson & Murphy.It was perhaps appropriate that Selby, as the decades most prolific ranking winner,should win  last nights Scottish Open & in the next few years he'll surely add to his already impressive 17 ranking titles .The same probably applies to Robertson & Murphy, but we are seeing now with all three  a real struggle to get the consistency of old.So yes I do see them all winning more tournaments, but as to whether they will be winning them at the ages the three mentioned in the previous paragraph have ,I have my doubts.

All of which means is that we may well be entering a prolonged period of Judd Trump dominance in the sport. it could even be said that we are already there,with his victories at this year  Masters & World Championship,as well as his big wins already this season. There is no reason why he can't add multiple Triple Crown victories to his cv in the coming years.Of his peers, his main competitors are probably Mark Allen, Kyren Wilson & a recently resurgent Ding junhui,but they will have to step it up to another level on a consistent basis if they are to compete with the Trump of the last 12 months.As for the players coming behind,I really don't see anyone capable of reaching that level & therein lies possibly the main problem facing the sport in the coming years.

Its something we have been hearing for many years ,& as of yet it has failed to materialise, but by pure weight of numbers coming through the teen ranks,it looks like China could well be the sports preeminent nation by the time the next decade finishes. We have this season seen Yan Bingtao rise above the others around him,becoming the third Chinese player to win a ranking title as well as reaching the UK semi finals and if the likes of Zhou Xintong,Zhou Yuelong,Yuan Sijun & Luo Honghao can make the leap,or indeed the next crop of young players who are inevitably coming through, the majority of the sports silverware will be heading East in the not to distant future.

From an Irish point of view, the opposite sadly applies. We started the decade with Ken Doherty & Fergal O'Brien flying the flag for the Rep.Of Ireland & despite a few false dawns with players getting on & then falling off the tour,we finish the decade with those two still our highest ranked players. There is a serious problem with snooker in this country at the moment & a big effort is needed by the governing body RIBSA to arrest the slide in interest. Just what they can do is another question! The one bright spark on the horizon is young Ross Bullman,who hopefully can gain a main tour place in the next year or two. 

Staying at home, it'd be great to see a big tournament return to these shores sooner rather than later. The couple of years the PTC Grand Final were held in Galway they were well attended & the crowds that go to Goffs every year for the the "Legends Tour" show there is still an appetite for live snooker in this country. Personally my dream would be to see something return to Goffs,but anything anywhere could only be a shot in the arm for the game here.

Anyway thats it from me for now. Please feel free to add any thoughts of ur own to the above here or on Twitter,
Till next time
 Terry Griffiths to all

Monday, 21 January 2019

The Masters -Thoughts On The Week

Before we get going,I just want to announce that I've decided to change things up a bit with the blog & it will now be a weekly column concentrating on a different issue within the sport each week,so if anyone has anything they want to see discussed,please leave your suggestion in the comment section or contact me on Twitter @thegreenbaize

Anyway on to the matter in hand and a look back at what we learned over the last week at the Ally Pally.

Well there really is only one place to start & that is with our champion Judd Trump.His 10-4 victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan was as commanding a performance as you are likely to see in a big final and was really just a continuation of what he showed all week. In truth he has looked the likely winner of this tournament from frame one.

Like so many in the past I have been very critical of what appeared to be a lack of respect from Trump for both his talent & the game as a whole, I don't agree with the opinions flying around on social media last night that those suggestions have been proved incorrect,if anything, I think, this week has strengthened that argument. Trump himself has talked about a renewed determination to make the most of his career and the changes he has made really seem to be paying off. Just as the criticisms of the past were well warranted,he equally deserves to be lauded now and will be a force to reckoned with wherever he plays for the rest of the season.

There was also plenty of talk in the aftermath of last nights final that we had just witnessed a "changing of the guard" & "end of an era". I think this may also have been a tad premature.This was Ronnie's 13th final appearance at The Masters and and it would be a brave shout to say it will be his last. If anything,for fans of "The Rocket" seeing how the manner of this defeat seemed to really annoy him last night,it may well spark a renewed effort from him going forward ,even moreso than if he'd coasted to the title here. This one hurt and he'll not want it repeated!

Elsewhere the worrying form of Mark Selby in the "Majors" continued here as after a superb performance in his opening match,he looked all at sea in his quarter final against Trump. This has been a continuation of what we've seen from him over the last season and a half and although he has lifted titles in that time,you have to start wondering are his best days behind him?

Selby turns 36 in June and although snooker has increasingly become an older mans game in the last decade I just don't see him any signs that he can still produce the consistency he once did and in many ways the same applies to Neil Robertson,who turns 37 in a few weeks.Of course such predictions may be made look very silly in the coming months!

On another note,after what has been a very poor spell by his standards, it was great to see Ding Junhui again showing a bit of form. Hopefully he can kick on from here as it would be a real shame to see his career just peter out,without lifting a few more titles and maybe giving the Worlds another good rattle.For all the talk we've heard of the young players from China coming through,Ding is still the undisputed no.1 from that part of the world and the more success he continues to have ,the more the sport there will grow.

Finally just a word on the venue which has become the natural home for this tournament in recent years.Sometimes this sort of "fake auditorium" can really have a poor atmosphere,but here they have somehow managed to make a 2000 seat arena also appear quite intimate.  Even watching on tv last week you could cut the tension with a knife at times.Snooker is a sport that really thrives on packed arenas full of people engaged in whats going on.Speaking of which,next stop on the tour is The Tempodrom for The German Masters!

Talk to ye next week.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The Nugget & I, A Fans Story fully Updated

Five years have now passed since I first posted this personal tribute to "The Nugget" and it remains to this day the blog for which I've received the most feedback .Of course with the passage of time some of what I've written no longer applies,but for this update I've decided to leave the original article untouched.However I have added at the end the most glorious postscript.

"How many times have I been here before" That was the  thought that went through my head last Thursday as the clock ticked past midnight  and Steve Davis completed his stirring comeback from 3-1 down to beat Jamie Jones 4-3 in the ET3 event in Doncaster. He would go on to the last 16 on Saturday where he was narrowly defeated 4-3 by Marco Fu,but that is not what I'm here to write about,rather this is an account of how in an ever changing world "The Nugget" has remained the one constant in my life for the last 35 yrs.

Thinking about it maybe is was always going to be thus,as September 1978 was not only the month Steve turned professional but also the month of my birth.This happy coincidence has meant my life has run in parallel with the career of the great man and boy what a career it has been.

Obviously at this remove it would be impossible to remember the exact moment I started to watch snooker and follow Steve,but I do have vivid memories of the "85" World final and was sufficiently interested in it to remember been possibly the only Irishman crying for Steve (I was only 7) when Taylor potted that black to lift the title.

My other memory from this time was a trip to Dublin on the eve of my First Holy Communion and walking half the city with my ever so patient parents,as we searched in vain for a blazer with a black waistcoat so I could look like the main man on my big day.To my disgust the nearest we could find was a maroon one which I refused to wear as it was too "Alex Higgins"!

Moving on the next thing to cross off the list was to see him play As i've said before i was lucky enough to live within a few miles of Goffs,the home of the Irish Masters,so to my delight that chance came in 1987 when,with my father,we made the first of what was to become an annual pilgrimage to semi finals Saturday.His opponent on this occasion was Terry Griffiths and after Steve had recorded a 6-2 win I remember queuing for his autograph and only his,as after Steve signed my book I took it and walked away just as Terry was getting ready to scribe his name on it.

The 80's drew to an end with Steve claiming a 6th World title with his most comprehensive win to date,an 18-3 victory over John Parrott.Surely,I thought,as the new decade began that this dominance of the game was set to continue!

Of course we now know it didn't .A combination of the arrival  in the big time of Stephen Hendry (God how the 12 year old me hated him) and an alignment problem meant the man who had been almost unbeatable was now just another one of the pack. Titles were still won,but they were becoming fewer and further between.It should be noted that a despite this,a run of consistent form in 1994 had him just one victory away from regaining his World no.1 ranking but his world championship semi final defeat to Hendry meant that this would never again be the case.

The 90's rolled on and I would be lying to say it was always easy to watch,as it seemed at times that Steve's biggest opponent was not the man sitting in the opposite chair,but instead the ghost of his former self.That said though,as is often the case,this only made the victories,when they did come,all the sweeter.

The most sparkling of these at this time was his epic B&H Masters triumph over Ronnie O'Sullivan in 1997 at the old Wembley Conference Centre. This had looked most unlikely as Ronnie,playing snooker from the Gods raced into an 8-4 lead.Steve was not for lying down and he fought back to win 10-8.By this stage I had long given up watching the match from my armchair and was now kneeling in front of the tv willing every pot in.I think i still have the final stages on video somewhere.

Into a new century we moved and Steve seemed to change his outlook towards the game.Gone now the shackles of trying to compete with the past,but in their place an acceptance that everything must pass and a desire to keep trying to be competitive against a new generation of players.

This new approach has on occasion produced some stunning results,like his fabulous run to the final of the UK Championship in 2005 and his memorable second round victory over defending world champion John Higgins at the 2010 World Championship.(I'm not too proud to admit that this one also brought a tear to my eye) I for one couldn't think of  better way to sign off if indeed this is to be his last hurrah at the Crucible

As for me my one remaining wish  was to get a chance to play a frame against the great man and.thankfully that opportunity came in an exhibition,when I outbid all my rivals in a auction(I wont say how much I paid) to get that chance.The frame itself is something I will never forget as I struggled  to control my shaking hands to play my opening shot.Steve to his credit gave me a generous handicap and plenty of chances which,as I managed to start potting a few,was enough to see me win the frame.The result was only secondary though to the thrill of playing the great man and to be honest I would have been equally happy to have sat there watching Steve knock in a century against me.

Thats it then and here we stand on the 22nd August 2013 the day of Steve's 56th birthday and he is still holding back the tide with the occasional displays of brilliance.

As for myself I have finally accepted that I'm not going to make it on the baize and have instead turned my hand instead to writing about the sport I love.Obviously to that end I have to try and be as impartial as possible when composing articles but I hope having read this you will forgive me,if every so often,that goes out the window when The Nugget is playing.

August 2018
As we all know time or tide wait for no man and a slump in form during the 2013/14 season meant a strong world championship performance was needed to keep Steve on the tour. Unfortunately,despite one more heroic display, that had us once again on the edge of our seats, he went down 10-8 to Craig Steadman and so dropped out of the top 64.He did get a reprieve,when Barry Hearn announced the legends wildcards, but in truth he was probably only going through the motions at this stage & when he lost to Fergal O'Brien in the Worlds qualifiers in April 2016, a month after the sad death of his father & greatest supporter Bill, retirement seemed inevitable.He finally announced it at the Crucible, where he got to parade the famous trophy one more time to the rapturous applause of the crowd & i'm sure I wasn't the only one watching with a tear inn my eye an era drew to a close.

And that should indeed should have been it,but in January of 2018, when Stephen Hendry was forced to withdraw from the Senior Irish Masters,Steve was convinced to dust off his cue one more time and return for a last hurrah to  the scene of so many of his triumphs in the past at Goffs Co.Kildare.

The return to this stage seemed to once again inspire Steve as he swept past Denis Taylor 3-1 in his first match & followed that up with a 3-0 victory over John Parrott  in the semi final. The strange anomaly of all the years I had seen Steve play here was that we had never got tickets for the final,but that wasn't to happen again this time, as 31 years after the first,I made one final pilgrimage to see the "The Nug" .

As I walked in past the beautifully manicured hedges that surround this wonderful sales ring & past the statue of the horse Be My Guest,my thoughts drifted back to all the times I had walked this way in with my own late father.Boy how he would have loved to have been with me that night as Steve once again produced some superb snooker to beat Jonathan Bagley 4-0 to claim the Senior Irish Masters title in what was his last ever competitive snooker match.This really was the stuff of fairytales.

And so, this time, that is that ,What is left for me to say but simply, thanks Steve.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

World Championship The Talking Points

So as Mark Williams puts some clothes back on & the dust settles on another world championship, what exactly did we learn over the last two 17 days?

The Class of '92
In the piece I wrote in the wake of last years final ,I suggested that after seeing the way that Higgins faded on the final day against Selby,we were perhaps now at the stage where the games biggest prize might just be beyond these three great champions. Well how wrong was I, as Higgins & Williams once again proved the old adage of form been temporary ,but class been permanent.The way this year went whose to say this wont be be witnessing something similar next year?

Ronnie O'Sullivan
The main surprise ,after the sensational season he's had, was just how limply Ronnie, exited the tournament in round two.It is ever more likely that his final defeat in 2014 to Selby will be the closest he gets to a sixth world crown. However seeing his two oldest rivals contest the final may just give him the push he needs to really make one more concerted effort to get back to the Crucible summit & it will be interesting to see if his playing schedule next season is built around peaking in late April.

Mark Selby
Its been a strange season for Selby,who on the face of it had a decent campaign by picking up the International Championship & China Open titles, but elsewhere largely having a miserable time of it. In one prediction I did get right,I said in my preview that if he were to be vulnerable it would be in the early rounds and so it proved as Joe Perry dumped him out on the opening day.

It would be foolish to suggest that this heralds the end of Selby as a major force in the game, but you just wonder if we have been spoilt by the standard that O'Sullivan, Higgins & Williams have maintained into their 40's. This has not been the norm and at 35 Selby is older than Davis or Hendry were ,when their game went into terminal decline.Of course the game is different now,with more tournaments putting less emphasise on long periods of heavy practice & not really the talent coming behind that they were faced with, but I'm just saying, though I do see plenty more titles in Selbys future, it would be dangerous to just presume his best form will automatically return.I think this is even more so the case with 36 yr old Neil Robertson.

Beaten semi finalists Wilson & Hawkins
Its a rare thing to have two cracking semi finals at the Crucible ,but that's what we got here as Wilson & Hawkins pushed their opponents all the way.

It has been a difficult season for Hawkins off the table, but he showed his liking for the Crucible to again make a bold bid for the title. The fact he just came up short again in the semi final will be gut wrenching for him & you just wonder how many more times he can go to the well here and recover from the disappointment.

Wilson on the other hand gave the impression here that he will be contesting at the business end of this championship for many years to come.A great break builder, he is calm under pressure and has a self belief that he will win that never comes across as cocky.He will have learnt a lot from his first experience of the single table set up here and I would be shocked if he's not a major contender in all the big events next season as well as back at the Crucible.

Ding & Trump
Another year, another chance slips by for the two most talented players currently at the top of the game yet to claim the world crown.After two great runs at the title in the last two years,it seemed Ding had laid his Crucible ghosts to rest, but they came back to haunt him in abundance here as he bowed out tamely to Hawkins in the quarter finals. The most disappointing thing about him here was to see just haw little fight there was in him when Hawkins started to pull away.He would do well to spend his summer studying how John Higgins handles adversity as with his current attitude it would be hard to see him ever lifting the trophy here.

Judd Trump is another a the stage in his career where the world title, that at one stage seemed his destiny, is something that will forever allude him.Here again this year he was very lucky to escape from the first round against debutant Chris Wakelin ,before finally bowing out to John Higgins in a decider in the last 8.This on the face of it, was a good performance, but it was his comments, once again,  about his opponents "luck" that struck me. This seems to be a trend with Trump in recent times after defeat, he blames everything bar his own shortcomings for his defeat. If this sort if attitude continues to go unchecked he will continue to be the sports top nearly man.One "Triple Crown" title is a poor return on his talent. It may be up to someone in his circle to start pointing out some uncomfortable home truths to him.

So thats it then, as a season dominated by the over 40's ends with Mark J Williams deservedly getting his name on the sports most famous trophy for a third time, we are as always left with a mountain of questions as to what the new season will bring.Lets hope whatever happens it will prove as enjoyable as the one just past.Enjoy your summer.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Mark Williams 2018 World Champion

Mark Williams is the 2018 world champion after finally seeing off John Higgins 18-16 in one of the best finals we've seen here in many years,

The story of the season has been the resurgence of the "class of 92" so it was, in retrospect, not that big a surprise to see two of them in the final, but perhaps what we might not have expected, was just how much both men would have left in the tank after 17 days of intense competition.

Starting out today Williams would have been delighted the way he rallied to claim that 10-7 overnight lead, having been earlier pegged back to 7-7, and things just got better straight out the gate today as he took the first four frames to the interval to lead 14-7.

Williams was now looking a man completely at one with his game as he serenely floated around the table,there was even whispers of it finishing with a session to spare, but  we should know by now, you count out John Higgins at your peril.Back came the Scot after the interval,but although he did take three of the next four, he still had it all to do trailing 15-10 coming into the night session.

What Higgins needed to produce tonight was a perfect session of snooker and it certainly started that way, with a 131 in the opener to close to 15-11.The next two frames followed a similar pattern, as Williams was suddenly struggling to get over the line in frames and two big dishes (67 &82) from Higgins saw him close to with two at  15-13.

Amazingly he also took the next to the go to the interval just the one behind at 15-14 and then followed it up with a 62 break when they resumed to draw level at 15-15.

Just what was going through Williams head at this stage is anyones guess,but having lost 8 of the previous 9 frames, he showed just why he has won so many big tournaments over the years to steady the ship and edge ahead again at 16-15,

A 100 break in the 32nd frame moved him to the brink at 17-15 and the title looked all but his as his break reached 63 in the next, only for him to then miss match ball pink.Higgins being Higgins cleared nervelessly with 65 to make it 17-16.

By now we were wondering what else could happen in this one,but in got Williams again in the next and this time there was no mistake as he sealed the title with a fine break of 69.

So a third world title for Williams, 15 years after his second  and one year after failure to qualify for the championship had him contemplating retirement. Whether this revival is entirely down to his devotion to the "SightRight" techniques or the fact that trying something new just gave the encouragement to practice seriously again its impossible to know, but what it has done is provide one of the games greats with a boost of confidence that has seen him back in the winners circle three times this season, including the biggest one of all.

For Higgins after all he has battled, not just in this match, but at various times over the fortnight, this will be a crushing defeat. He will look back at the slow start he made yesterday as perhaps the key moments in this match and although he can be rightly proud of how he fought his way back into it, you just wonder if now after a second world final defeat in a row ,if a fifth title will just prove beyond him.

We must finish though, by again saluting our champion. It was so nice to see his family living every shot from the balcony,especially when you remember that for his kids, this is their first time seeing him on top of the world. It also serves as a timely reminder for a newer generation of snooker fans, who perhaps don't pay due respect to the past, that when we dine out on talk of the games all times greats, Mark J Williams deserves his place at the table.