By Brendan Boylan,
As well as an extensive reading library of mostly sports biographies, yours truly also keeps a fairly large library of videos and DVDS of sporting action. Contained therein is a variety from GAA, soccer, rugby, racing, basketball and boxing, and maybe more. Also there is a collection of Jimmy Magee’s favourite sporting memories to mark the legendary broadcaster’s 50th year commentating on sport.
There are some real gems within. Like the penalty shoot-out in Genoa in 1990, Michael Carruth’s Olympic gold and Stephen Roche’s annexation of the Tour De France in 1987. Then there’s that never to be forgotten final frame of the 1985 Snooker World Championship between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis. You know the one – each of them make several attempts to pot the one remaining black on the table before Taylor – complete with now legendary upside down glasses – duly sinks it to claim the title.
Even more so than Ken Doherty’s victory a dozen years later, it is most likely that said finale is the one abiding snooker memory most people in Ireland hold. As was often said before with regard to ‘less prominent codes’, that’s mostly down to coverage, or lack thereof. Put simply, the two and a bit weeks that the World Championships are on in Sheffield tends to be the only time most of us see snooker.
Apart from the achievements of the two Irish lads, the other abiding memory that resonates from the on table action is the dominance enjoyed by Stephen Hendry for the best part of a decade, during which time the Scottish superstar bagged seven World Championships. Considering the calibre of player that was on the go at the time, that achievement was only magnified.
Of course, Hendry’s good fortune was bad news for his fellow competitors, maybe nobody more so than Jimmy White. ‘The Whirlwind’ was very much the people’s champion in the sport. Everyone wanted Jimmy to win a world title and it must rank as one of the greatest shames in any sporting code.
Mention of him in this piece is fitting. He didn’t even qualify to play at The Crucible this year, Davis didn’t either while a plethora of other high profile players were eliminated before the business end of the tournament. Most notable among them being the aforementioned Hendry. The Edinburgh man had had not been centre stage as much recently as in the past, but, even allowing for that, the consummate ease with which fellow Scot Stephen Maguire dispatched him (13-2) was a bit of a surprise.
What wasn’t that big of a shock was to see Hendry retire from competitive fare after the defeat. Nonetheless, it’s a decision that will cause quite a degree of sadness as it undoubtedly marked the end of a glorious era in the sport. Furthermore, it proved that, while the action in snooker tends to proceed at a fairly sedate pace, there’s little room for growing old with grace as a new wave of stars grab the headlines. Not all for positive reasons either!
Mark Allen is most definitely a break from the snooker norm. Now, it would have to be said that the player’s comments following his elimination were very much over the top and the WPBSA will most likely, and rightly, discipline him. If any positivity can come from Allen’s outburst though, it might increase the profile of the game!
Mind you, even aside from Allen’s tendency to court controversy, there seems to be a new wave of stars coming to the fore in the game, the exploits of whom will hopefully see it getting more coverage than is often the case. With Hendry and the Irish interest eliminated and other top performers like John Higgins and Mark Selby also out of the equation, the few euro from this seat would have been inclined to drift towards Judd Trump until he was – if you’ll excuse the pun – trumped by a resurgent Ali Carter.
At the time of typing, if a selection had to be made (the semi finals have just got under way) I would suggest that Ronnie O’Sullivan looks likely to go on and claim a fourth World Championship title. After a spell dominated by indifferent form, ‘The Rocket’ seems to have rediscovered his zing. When he’s on form one could only be awestruck watching him.
One of the drawbacks or off-putting factors in snooker tends to be when the play develops into a safety battle. The action in such situations can meander into monotonously boring fare but when ‘The Rocket’ is in full flight things tend to be anything but slow or boring. As was evidenced by him completing frames in 11 and five minutes respectively at different stages during the 2012 World Championships.
I – and many more probably – have really enjoyed this year’s snooker in Sheffield. Unfortunately though, it will probably be the end of April 2013 before many of us see some again.