When it comes to conversations about snooker, the question I get asked more than any other is – ‘Who is the best player you ever saw?’
It doesn’t take any great searching of the brain to come up with the answer – Ronnie O’Sullivan. Ronnie is to our sport what Leo Messi is to soccer – a genius of his time.
Yes there have been other great players down the years from Steve Davis to Stephen Hendry but the Rocket is something else entirely.
Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins had the element of genius too on a given day – he was more a George Best than a Messi though. Funny I should mention George but one time I was talking to Alex about the Manchester United star. It was in a pub and Alex, about eight stone at the time, with drink in hand and cigarette in mouth said quite laconically as I showed him my favourite picture of Georgie.
“What a waste,” he said as he slugged his vodka…and I hasten to add he did so without the slightest note of irony in his voice.
I loved Alex and in truth he was the reason I was attracted to snooker in the first place. And it is due to him and snooker that I have been able to lead the life I’ve had, travelling all over the world and feeling very at home with my snooker family.
The game has given me many friends from Jimmy White to Denis Taylor, from Stephen Hendry to Steve Davis and John Virgo, John Parrott and many more too numerous to mention.
As I played in the Welsh Open this week at the age of 53, I got quite reflective actually on how well the sport has treated me. From being lucky enough to win the World Championship to commentating on the modern game, it has looked after me professionally.
And I love every minute of it. So much so, particularly in the tv commentary, that I would happily do it for nothing (please don’t tell my television bosses that or they make me eat my words). I’m not exaggerating when I say the pros and ex-pros are like a family – we often holiday together, play golf as often as possible and socialise with other families.
Our sport needs someone with the x-factor to come along every now and again and Ronnie is doing that for us right now. The game is popular again after undergoing a dip in the noughties.
Jokingly, if I am doing a gig, I tell the audience that while Ronnie is good, I got fed up beating him 10-1 and 10-2 when I was in my prime… I omit to mention he was only 12 at the time but by the end of the stand up, I let his age slip.
Just watching him still makes me feel I am in the presence of sporting royalty…. who else is equally good playing right or left-handed? The quy is a freak of nature and we are blessed to have him.
Ireland playing with a swager
It is hard to imagine the transformation in the Ireland rugby team over the past few years since Andy Farrell took over, isn’t it? We have come from a team which hates the favouritism tag and who underachievers when most is expected of them to one who delivers, whether it be in New Zealand against the All Blacks or at home against the likes of World Champions South Africa or reigning Grand Slam Champions France.
Moral victories don’t exist in Farrell’s lexicon – he is all about seeing how he can get the best out of a group of people.Farrell has fostered the squad ethic and has pointed out that the likes of Johnny Sexton is as liable to get injured in a game against France in the upcoming World Cup as a Six Nations’ game, so replacements must be exactly that – able to fill in when needed.
Tadgh Furlong was out for these first two matches and Finlay Bealham has emerged in his stead as well able to hold his end up. Even when he too went off on Saturday Tom O’Toole came on and in his 15-20 minute cameo looked as good as Furlong and better than Bealham. Ditto Ross Byrne, who came in for Sexton before the 50 minute mark and steered the ship home with aplomb. Even the loss of Dan Sheehan alongside Furlong in the front row failed to unsettle us on Saturday as our forward division faced up to a formidable French front row in particular and came away with enhanced reputations.
Well Farrell’s main strength, which he is passing onto the squad, is to welcome adversity and still triumph. It is a novel way for an Irish team to view proceedings, given that up to recently we hated being labelled as favourites to win a match, never mind a competition. Without boasting Ireland wants to win every match, improve in every game and ultimately win the trophies on offer – the Grand Slam and the World Cup in ’23.
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