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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Trip down memory lane at Goffs

Isn't it great that some things just don't change! This was may thought as I  walked past the beautifully manicured hedges,through the iron gates,up the pathway between the two water features and looked once more at the statue of champion racehorse Be My Guest..This is Goffs a place where the worlds finest thoroughbreds change hands every year for millions of euro.This weekend it played host to the Snooker Legends tour but for one week every March between 1978 and 2000  the place belonged to the thoroughbreds of the snooker world as the sports finest battled it out for the B&H Irish Masters title.

As I said in my introduction blog I was lucky enough to live quite close the the venue and attend many great matches there over the years so I will now share some of my favourite memories with you..

I'll start with the very first snooker match I ever saw live. The year was 1987 and Willie Thorne had already booked his place in the final that afternoon as myself and my Dad made the journey out for the second semi final between Terry Griffiths and my idol Steve Davis.I remember been excited the whole week leading up to this and.I was not to be disappointed as sitting on my fathers shoulders so I could see over the crowd (we had standing tickets and i was only 8) I saw Steve record an easy 6-2 victory over the Welshman.He would go on to beat Thorne 9-1 in the final and win the third of what would be a total of eight Irish Masters titles.It's.I suppose it's little wonder then that even today he states that this was his favourite venue.

The second memory I'd like to share again features Steve (I did see him play a lot) in a 1996 semi final against Irelands own Ken Doherty .The match was to go to Steve 6-4 but what made it stand out in my mind was the sheer quality of matchplay snooker on show..Of the 10 frames played I think 5 were won with big breaks but the other 5 were hard fought with some of the best safety play I've ever seen.Of course Davis has had few if any equals in the tactical department but Ken was never a slouch in that area either so each exchange was keenly fought.I don't think I've ever seen the table been tapped as many times in any match since. When the match was over and we were leaving I recall one of the stewards passing a comment about how bored he was and thinking if you didn't enjoy that then snookers not for you!

Next we move on to the 1997 tournament and my first introduction to Ronnie O Sullivan and John Higgins.Both these great players were now beginning to make an impact in the game and faced each other in the quarter finals I made a solo trek to the venue and managed to get seat B1 which was so close to the action that when Higgins returned to his chair and didn't sit down I couldn't see the table. I obviously had seen Ronnie  play on tv many times before this but until you have actually seen him in the flesh it's hard to fully appreciate his genius.On this day he was on top form and seeing him at such close quarters effortlessly knock in back to back centuries one of which was a total clearance will long live in my memory.He didn't so much seem to walk around the table as glide.Higgins for his part played well but ronnie saw out the match 6-4.

The following year these two were to meet again this time in the semi final.I was in attendance again as they served up another classic .The beauty of Goffs was  as well as seating for nearly a thousand they could sell many more tickets for the two balcony areas that surrounded the arena. For this match we went to the top level which left us with an almost overhead view of proceedings.From here you could truly appreciate the close control and skill of these two greats.At one stage I swear O Sullivan made a 70odd without the cueball touching a cushion.Ronnie was again to be the victor winning  6-4.

The other thing I will always remember from this venue is the unique atmosphere.a capacity crowd used to create.This was never more evident then when a Irish player entered the arena and I have heard the roof nearly been lifted from the place as the likes of Alex Higgins , Dennis Taylor, Fergal O Brien and Ken Doherty came out to do battle.For anyone who went to the old Wembley Conference Centre when Jimmy White was playing I imagine they will have witnessed something similar.

I could write much more about the many other great matches and players I had the pleasure of seeing during these years including Stephen Hendry at his peak (a fact I didn't fully appreciate at the time) as well as the strange fact that on in the three matches I saw Jimmy playing he lost all 6-5 but i would be writing all night.Suffice it to was this going to see these matches as a child that cemented my already growing love for the sport.Attending the "Legends" the other night and as I looked around the arena they all came back to me .Nothing would please me more then to see a full tournament return there in the near future.


Thursday, 17 May 2012

Interview with Fergal O Brien.

It’s one of the sports most enduring images, Higgins World trophy in hand,tears in eyes taking his baby daughter into his arms as Ted Lowe declares “The World Snooker Champion 1982 is Alex Hurricane Higgins”. Watching on tv in Dublin is a 10 year old Fergal  O Brien,.

“Alex was my hero then though over time the more I found out about him the more that changed ” say’s Fergal today,What didn’t change though was his love of snooker.“My parents had bought an “8x4” snooker table when I was 8 and from then I was hooked”

Fergal finished his schooling but snooker was never far from his mind ”I remember been sent to the career guidance teacher in school and telling him I wanted to be a snooker player he said only one in a million actually make it and I told him that yeah I was that one”

Having competed in junior tournaments through his teens with some success  the break he needed came in 1991 when The WPBSA  opened up the professional ranks to everyone.
“It was like the deregulation of the taxi’s. It went from 128 professionals to a situation where you could pay £800 and call yourself a professional.”

A move to England followed where Fergal was to base himself  in  Illford a place where many young pro’s practiced and fellow Dubliner Ken Doherty  was club professional.

That first year was tough,With so many  new professionals it meant playing 12 qualifying rounds for tournaments. Still a steady first year meant Fergal finished with a respectable ranking of 192,The following season that rose to 100 and in the next season he made the first  move into the minds of the Irish sporting public.

“I remember I had qualified for the World championships at the Crucible and the next day it was announced I was getting the wild card for the B&H Masters at Goffs.”.A first round victory over Willie Thorne set up a mouth watering quarter final clash with the World Champion and snooker kingpin Stephen Hendry,

“I still remember it like it was yesterday. I had couple of centuries in going 4-0 up,He had a 141 in coming back to 4-2 but I closed with a 60 odd to win 5-2..It was great to play so well on such a big occasion especially as I think I knew half the crowd.Someone would shout COME ON FERGAL. And I’d be thinking that’s John from the club“.

The dream run was to finish in the semi final against Alan McManus but Fergal O Brien. was now established in the publics mind., Unfortunately success was not to come easily over the following seasons.

“I changed my cue the following year and my confidence suffered as well as that maybe the greater sense of expectation weighed heavier on me“.During this time his ranking continued to climb but the speed of this ascent had slowed.It wasn’t until the 1998/99 season that long overdue success came in winning “The British Open.”.

“When you start as a pro obviously you want to be World Champion  but winning a ranking event when you consider only maybe 1% of those who have ever played  the game achieved this is still special...The final itself was strange with Anthony (Hamilton) outscoring me by 300 points but I managed to win the close frames.”.

The record books record it as a  9-6 victory but more then that it moved Fergal to number 11 in the rankings thus guaranteeing his place in the following seasons World Championships  and the sports biggest Invitational event The Masters at Wembly.

The Following season Fergal consolidated his position in the top 16 and then in January 2001 came the chance to collect his biggest prize. Leading Paul Hunter 7-3 in the final he missed an easy red to go 8-3 and then had to sit helplessly as Hunter fought back.

“He pulled it back to 7-6.I won the next to make it 8-6 and I had to sit and watch as Paul rolled off the next three to this stage I hadn’t scored in an hour and getting out of the chair was hard..That said I played one of the best frames of my life to level at 9 all“.

Unfortunately it was not to be as Hunter did enough to lift the first of his three Masters titles.”Looking back now I probably took the defeat harder then I needed to I mean how bad is it be to be 9-9 in Masters final! Still though ,now with what happened Paul(Hunter died of cancer in 2006 aged 27) I can’t begrudge him that victory .”

In the years since Fergal has held his own in the game without lifting another major trophy.Now 21 years since he turned professional he is still ranked 34.

The past two years have seen major changes in the game with the “Hearn Revolution”
Thie now packed calendar hasn’t pleased everyone as Hearn looks to take advantage of the sports growing popularity around Europe and Asia with an ever increasing number of tournaments outside the UK ,Fergal however has embraced the changes.

“Looking back a few seasons It had gotten to the stage we were in part time employment because we had so few tournaments. It still needs some tweaking but now we have tournaments every few weeks.You can lose a qualifier this week and be out again in another tournament next week.It means you don’t get time to dwell on defeats.”

Another aspect of the game which  will be increasingly important among players in the future as the circuit grows will be physical fitness,This is something  Fergal has already embraced by joining his local athletic club.” I joined Lucan Harriers a while ago,I have always loved running but now I can really feel the benefits,The thing I’ve noticed most is its not that I’ve been able to practice longer,but my concentration levels have improved.I now get as much out of the last hour of practice as I do from the first.”

 Now aged 40 and about to embark on his 22rd season on the circuit is the end in sight? “No I remember Andre Agassi saying when you start  thinking of the end it is the end so I’m not there yet.My hunger for success is the same as the day I started..

Lets hope the coming season brings Fergal some success and maybe he can inspire the next generation of Irish snooker star the way Alex inspired him all those years ago.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Things we've learned from the World Championship

Now as Ronnie O Sullivan clears away the spot on his mantelpiece that will be filled by the famous trophy for the next twelve months and The Crucible theatre goes back to normal,What have we learnt from the last two weeks?

1.Ronnie O Sullivan Lets start with the obvious,leaving aside any arguments about the best of all time there is no doubt there has never been anyone who makes the game look as ridiculously easy as O Sullivan at his best.As his place in the top 16 hung in the balance earlier in the season there were some who doubted  if we'd ever see him lift a trophy again let alone another world title.A high quality performance in winning the German Masters showed he could still produce on the big stage an last week he proved he still has the desire needed to do it on the biggest of stages.He stated afterwards he intends to take a break for a few months but it would only be a foul who'd suggest he can't come back next year and collect a fifth title.

2The Great young players myth.We are been constantly been told about how the standard of snooker is increasing all the time and that we have all these great players coming through but this is not supported by the facts.Yes we probably do have a larger number of players playing a similarly high standard but are they any better then the pro's from 20 years ago?The evidence would suggest not as now five of the last six World titles have been won by the oldest winners since the mid 80's.Hardly an endorsement of the new young stars.This is something I will be writing about in more detail in coming weeks.

3.The new young stars.Obviously reaching the quarters means that Jamie Jones will be the rookie that many will remember from this championship and rightly so as he played some marvelous snooker and there is no he doubt will be challenging for trophies in new season The other rookie of note is the much talked about Luca Brecel from Belguim.We have been hearing about him for so long now it's hard to believe he is still only 17,but he showed great bottle to get through four rounds of qualifying against seasoned veterans before he was far from disgraced against Stephen Maguire in the first round.He had struggled adapting to the qualifiers up to this but having been given a reprieve with a tour wildcard for the next two seasons I expect him to build on his world championship experience and make a major impact.If he does it will only enhance further the strides the game has made on mainland europe.He certainly has the do it.

4.The success of the qualifiers.This was the major talking point of the first week as eight seeds tumbled in the first round.The main argument been put forward for this was the fact that unlike previous years the qualifiers only finished the week before and the players who came through were fully match fit for the longer games.Another theory was that the top players were tired after a long tough season.Both these theories may have some merit but its impossible to be certain on the example of only one season.I for one though do believe we will see, in future seasons as the calendar grows,the players will learn to manage their time better in order to peak for the big events.and as for the qualifier theory it is simply a case that as I said earlier we have a lot of players of similar ability.

5.Chinese World Champion When Ding burst on the scene I think  probably most of us thought he would have won a world title by now but it hasn't happened and the question now must be will it ever? To his credit he has won two UK and one Masters title but aside from his run to the semi final last year he has failed to make impact at the crucible.This year he let a seemingly unassailable lead slip against Ryan Day and was unusually sulky in the press conference after. Perhaps the weight of the whole countries expectations weigh to heavily on him and the fact that there are a few more Chinese players coming through it will take some of that pressure off him. It could be though that he just doesn't have the temprement to deal with the inevitable bad session you get during the 17 day marathon.

These are just some of my musings as I try to cope with the lack of snooker action for the next month.Let me know what you think and also any other points of interest I may have missed .@thegreenbaize

Monday, 7 May 2012

World Final round up.

The Betfred  World Snooker Champion  2012 is Ronnie O Sullivan following a thoroughly professional 18-11 victory over Ali Carter.

In scenes reminiscent of thirty years ago when Alex Higgins held his baby daughter in his arms as he collected the trophy, tonight we had the man who has overtaken him as the most naturally gifted player in the games history holding his young son Ronnie jnr as he collected the trophy for a fourth time,

The match itself had been all but settled in the afternoon session.The first day had been but for a few brief moments of magic by O Sullivan,a  tactical affair as Carter employed a gameplan of keeping it tight and not pushing the boat out.This was not the case today though as Ronnie came out all guns blazing and turned his overnight lead of 10-7 in one of 14-7.

The very real possibility of it finishing with a session to spare looked on the cards as Ali  wilted  under the O Sullivan barrage.As it was though the interval came at the right time though and to his credit Carter came out and won the next three to close to 14-10.This made the last of the session vitally important and it was Ronnie who regained his composure to take it and lead 15-10.

The evening session started with a standing ovation for the retiring Stephen Hendry and the question was were we about to see the last act another great following O Sullivan's hint that he might retire at the top following his semi final win,Before that question could be answered though there was still work to be done,

The opening frame was all important if Carter was to harbour any hopes of a comeback but Ronnie quickly won it with a break of 70,Ali did win the next to make 15-11 (and in the process ruin my score bet) but O Sullivan saw it out winning the next two to claim the title.

O Sullivan now joins John Higgins on four World titles and is only behind Davis and Reardon (6) and Hendry (7) on the all time list.Who is the greatest player of them all? Well thats open to debate but what cannot be argued is that when Ronnie is in full flight there has never been anyone else who can make this game look so easy.We should be thankful to have him and lets hope he can keep this inner peace he seems to have found and continue to thrill crowds for many years to come.

Finally thank you all for reading my blogs over the last couple of weeks and please continue to check in on me over the coming weeks and months as I have a few interseting pieces lined up.Also please follow me on twitter @thegreenbaize,

Sunday, 6 May 2012

World Final Day 1

Well here we are ,after 15 days we have seen the field of 32 master cuemen reduced to 2 as Ronnie O Sullivan goes in search of his fourth World Title and Ali Carter tries to capture his first.

The opening session this afternoon was a strange affair as Ronnie got in early to take a 2-0 lead but the match following a couple of scrappy frames Ali leveled at 2-2 at the interval.The scrappy trend continued as the scoreline became 3-3. The next looked to be heading the same way with reds on cushions everywhere until Ronnie showed all his genius to win it with a break of 92 that was as good as anything i have ever seen.Insoired by this he closed the session with a sublime 141 to make it 5-3.

Onto the evening session and the scrappy nature of the match continued as they shared the first four to move the score to 7-5.There seemed to be a reluctance on  Carters part to try and take the match by the scruff of the neck by taking on anything overly difficult and as he started to miss a few when he did get in the frustration seemed to be getting the better of him.Ronnie on the other hand was showing remarkable self control and patience in what is obviously a type of match he hates,

O Sullivan went on to extend his lead to 9-5 before Carter won the next to close within three again at 9-6.Ronnie won a tense 16th frame following a super snooker on the last red but Carter managed to clinch the last of the session thanks to a fluke on the frame ball red to trail 10-7 overnight.

Summing up the day i think overall the standard wasn't great but this was maybe in part to the balls running awkwardly in many frames. The match seems to be taking a similar vein to the 2008 final between the two and it will be interesting to see if it continues into tomorrow afternoon.. The shadow of Peter Ebdon has been clear for all to see in Carter's play as he continued his "negative" approach and it's hard to see that been enough to beat Ronnie tomorrow. Lets hope the Crucible crowd tomorrow are treated to a feast of snookering brilliance

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Semi Round up and Final Preview

The final of The Betfred World Championship 2012 will be contested between Ali Carter and Ronnie O Sullivan as both finished off comfortable victories over Stephen Maguire and Matthew Stevens in the semi's today.

The possibility of an empty session tonight was still on the cards this morning as O Sullivan started needing six of the eight frames this morning to seal his victory. To his credit though Matthew was not for giving up and manages to get back within three of his opponent at 12-9,O Sullivan though this week has managed to produce his best when opponents have threatened to get back at him and won the last threee of the session to lead 15-9 coming into tonight.Stevens again came out out all guns blazing with a century but Ronnie hit back with a century of his own and sealed victory in the next wining by scoreline of 17-10 in the end.

The other semi was given a lease of life last night when Maguire won the last three frames to get back to 14-10 coming into this afternoon and give himself a glimmer of hope of  making an improbable comeback.The one thing he would have known was that for this to happen he needed a good start, This didn't come though as he lost first two frames to trail 16-10.Maguire did manage to win a couple but Carter took his next chance to close out the match 17-12. 

Its funny thing to say about a match over four sessions but the opening eight frames set the tone for the whole match as Maguire fell behind and never really got going again,That said Carter played solidly if not spectacularly and never looked like losing the lead he had built up.

So there we have it then,The 2012 final will be a repeat of the 2008 final which Ronnie won 18-8, the question is will things be different this time?

The widely held view is that O Sullivan has played a level of snooker over the last 15 days that he has not reached since that 2008 championship.He has at times been unplayable and also maybe more impressively shown great patience at times he has been frozen out. Carter on the other hand has come through a couple of sticky matches against Trump and Jones with some good old fashioned hard matchplay.The influence of Peter Ebdon in his corner has been there for all to see as Carter  at times has turned down big shots he previously would have gone for sparking mumblings of discontent among many accusing him.of "negative snooker".This is perhaps a little unfair as Ali has constructed some fine breaks over week albeit not winning many frames at one visit.The question is will that be enough against Ronnie?

For me the opening session of this final will be the key.I feel for Ali to have any chance he needs to be leading after this session to give him something to build on into the night.If Ronnie gets off to a flyer i think the form he has been in he wont be stopped.taking all this into consideration I go for O Sullivan to lift his fourth World Crown by scoreline of 18-10 (Incidentally thats currently 9/1 with Paddy Power)

Friday, 4 May 2012

World Championship Semi Finals pt1

The semi finals of the World Championship ave always posed a problem for World Snooker.If they are closely fought you get great slow burning drama but on the other side with them been drawn out over three days you run the danger if they are one sided that the whole thing turns into an anti climax and the tournament loses momentum.At one stage this evening it looked like anyone with final session tickets were going to get short changed but in one of the matches at least there might just be a final twist..

Undoubtedly the player of the tournament so far has been Ronnie O Sullivan.There were times in his victories over Ebdon,Williams and Robertson where bordered on been unplayable such was the standard of snooker he produced.The question was coming into this match was could he sustain it or would his opponent Matthew Stevens who has quietly reached this stage do enough to reach his third World Final.

The opening session was a nervy one with neither player getting a proper foothold.This though didn't stop Ronnie taking a 4-0 lead at the interval.To his credit though Matthew fought back to only trail 5-3 overnight,Stevens would have realized to make an impact in the match he needed to start the second session well and this he did winning the opening two frames to level at 5-5.Just as we were wondering if we were really going to have a match on our hands though O Sullivan took it as his cue to turn on the style again.In a run of six consecutive frames .which included breaks of 92,110,98 and 113 he extended his lead to 11-5.They resume tomorrow morning with surely the real possibility of this match finishing with a session to spare.

This for a while tonight seemed as it might be also on the cards as Ali Carter at one stage lead Stephen Maguire 14-7..In the battle of possibly the two most unlikely poker players on the circuit we had plenty of usual head shaking,wry smiling and cue banging as Carter took a 5-3 lead into this mornings second session.He extended this to 10-6 going into tonight as a thoroughly fed up looking Maguire struggled to produce the snooker that had seen him come comfortably through the early rounds.It is therefore surprising that he managed to dig in so deep and won the last three of the session to keep a glimmer of hope alive.He is still running out of time though and starting 14-10 down he will need to be quick off the blocks in tomorrow afternoons final session. .

So on we go and by this time tomorrow night we will know who will be contesting the 2012 World Final.I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

World Championship Q.F. part tw

And then there were four.
We now the Betfred World champion 2012 will be Stephen Maguire,Ali Carter,Ronnie O Sullivan or Matthew Stevens.following todays conclusion of the quarter finals.

The question coming into this afternoons session of the O Sullivan v Robertson match was would Ronnie live to regret his carelessness in missing frame ball blue to level at 4-4 yesterday.Any thoughts that this may have affected him however were quickly put to bed as he produced at times breathetaking snooker to turn his overnight 5-3 deficit into a 7-5 lead at the interval.Robertson was struggling under the pressure been applied by "The Rocket" and the score soon became 9-5.Robertson to his credit dug in and managed to win the last two of the session to trail 9-7 coming into the final session.

Robertson knew he needed a good start this evening to have any chance of keeping his title dreams alive and they shared to opening two frames making it 10-8.O Sullivan has looked a different animal here this week though and I'm not just talking about the haircut.He has seemed totally focused on what he is doing and is cuing as well as he has in many years.He again upped a gear to make it 12-8 and although Robertson closed again to 12-10 Ronnie closed out the match in the next 13-10 to strengthen his position at the top of the betting market for a fourth World crown.

The man standing between Ronnie and a fourth appearance in a world final is Matthew Stevens who completed a straight forward victory over fellow Welshman Ryan Day 13-5 this morning.Stevens has not had the best of seasons but has always throughout his career looked more comfortable in the longer matches and the two time world runner up certainly wont fear playing O Sullivan over four sessions.The story of this match however was that Stevens won an astonishing eleven frames in a row to turn a 5-2 deficit into a 13-5 win.It was only after the match that we discovered that the unfortunate Day was suffering from a migraine yesterday afternoon and that surely accounts for his sudden loss of form.

In the top half Stephen Maugure will surely have enjoyed his day off and will no doubt have hoped for a close long draining match between his potential opponents Ali Carter and Jamie Jones.Jones has been the revelation. of the tournament in many respects coming here as a debutant but lighting the place up with some  exciting snooker.Ali on the other hand showed all his experience in beating Trump in the last round. This game always had the potential to be a close one and so it proved.

Following the first session Carter lead 5-3  and moved that onto 9-7 coming into tonights final session.Carter started the better and built his lead to 12-8 and one frame away from victory. Jones was not going to lie down though and clawed his way back to 12-9 and then 12-10.Carter must have surely have been starting to think was the same thing going to happen here as had happened in reverse in his last match with Judd.Those worries would only have intensified as Jones closed within one at 12-11.Carter was not to be denied though and steadied himself to see out the match 13-11.

So there we have it.It seems like an appropriate time to point out that following a disaster in the second round I managed to predict all quarter final matches correctly.if only I'd done an accumulator! Who do I see in the final? I think we may be in for a repeat of The German Masters final of a couple of months ago with Maguire facing O Sullivan.If that is the case an they both produce the snooker they did then we really would be in for a special weekend.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

World Championship Q.F. part one

Today saw the opening sessions of the quarter final matches but tonight one story  is dominating the snooker world,The retirement of the games most successful ever player Stephen Hendry.

In his autobiography Andre Agassi talks about how he decided to end his own professional career by saying that when you start to think about the end it is the end.With that in mind the signs were there a year ago when he contemplated retirement following defeat in last years World Championship. He decided then to give it one more year and although he managed to negotiate the qualifiers for most tournaments he couldn't make an impact.|

He revealed in his press conference that he made the decision to bow out after this championship about three months ago.This speaks volumes for the man that with this in mind he still managed to firstly qualify for the Crucible,then get a 147 in his first match and finally beat the defending champion to reach the quarters,It was here his run came to an end as he could not produce any form and lost 13-2 to Stephen Maguire.

A sad way to finish perhaps but he leaves the game with practically every record in the book and it is doubtful anyone will ever dominate the sport again the way he did in the 90's.

For me the memory I will take of Hendry was the way he didn't just walk around the table, he prowled around it and left his opponent in no doubt  that this was his arena they had entered.He literally had people beaten before they ever hit a ball.It's only the greats that can produce this sort of aura about themselves and Hendry is certainly a great by any standard.It will be a strange snooker circuit without him.

In the other games Robertson leads O Sullivan 5-3  the same scoreline as Carter leads Jones, in the other game Stevens won all eight frames tonight to lead Day 11-5 overnight.

All these games finish tomorrow but all the headlines in the papers in the morning will be dominated by the retirement of "the Wonder Bairn"