"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.
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.