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Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Nugget & I, A Fans Story

"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.

Happy Birthday Steve and heres to the next 35 yrs .

Sunday, 18 August 2013

ET 3 Bluebell Wood Open

Ricky Walden held off  a determined fightback from Marco Fu to win the deciding frame and claim the Bluebell Wood Open at the Doncaster Dome last night.

In a final that was hard fought and scrappy at times it was Walden who took a lengthy opening frame to lead 1-0.Fu leveled with a century in the next but it was Walden who pulled away again to lead 3-1.Fu to his credit battled back to win the next two to level at 3-3 and force the decider.

This turned into one of those long nervy deciders where both players had their chances before a fluked red allowed Walden in and he duly made the most of knocking in a smooth 65 to claim the title.

This was a fine win for Walden who must still have an odd sleepless night about how he let that World semi final against Hawkins slip from the his grasp.A crushing defeat like that has the potential to be a career defining moment for a player,but the surest way to dull the memory is to win matches against good players and that is what he did here,not just beating Fu in the final,but also with earlier wins over Ali Carter,Mark Allen and Shaun Murphy.

For Fu he will be slightly disappointed not to have claimed his second title of the season but he can be happy with how he fought here to get back into it and also with how he held off the fightback of Ding in the semi final when having lead 3-0 he saw Ding level at 3-3.Al this bodes well for him for the season ahead.

Of the games other big names the worlds top three ranked players all failed to negotiate the first round here with Neil Robertson & Judd Trump both losing deciding frames to Liang Wenbo & Ding Junhui and Mark Selby letting a 2-0 lead turn in to a 4-2 defeat to Vinnie Calabrese. 

Ronnie O Sullivan showed signs that he was not just here to punch in on the clock in coming back from 3-1 down to beat 15 Lyu Haotian in the first round,Haotian for his part impressed again in this match and there is little doubt that with the more experience he gets the higher his star is going to rise.Ronnie eventually went out in the last 32 to the impressive Peter Lines.

John Higgins also failed to reach the final day letting a 2-0 lead slip against Rod Lawler losing in the end 4-2.

Also a special word must be spared for Steve Davis,who may be only a few days away from his 56th birthday,but once again showed that the fire burns as bright as ever in reaching the last 16,,indeed his form here,not least in his fightback from 3-1 down against Jamie Jones, was as good as anything he has produced in recent years.He will have no doubt been annoyed with himself that he couldn't make the most of his chances when he lead eventual runner up Marco Fu 3-2 before eventually losing a tight decider.

So ends the tours stay in Doncaster with the venue coming in for some criticism for the uncomfortably warm playing conditions.Hopefully this is something that can be looked at in future as from a facilities point of view it seems to have been  vast improvment on other PTC venues,

Anyway onwards we go and it's off to Germany next weekend for ET4 The Paul Hunter Classic ..