By Ken Doherty
Neal Robertson won the Players’ Championship in Wolverhampton last weekend and it couldn’t happen to a nicer fella. Part of me wanted his opponent in the final, Barry Hawkins to lift the trophy because he hasn’t managed a win in a long time, but I would never begrudge seeing Neal come out on top.
In a way his career reminds me a bit of my own. At different times, we both left home with £500 in our pockets hoping to make it big on the snooker circuit. Like myself, Neal had to fight hard to establish himself, after falling off the tour. But he battled back and once he established himself, he stayed up there. So anytime the Aussie can pick up a cheque for £125,000 as he did last weekend, I am only too happy to see him do it.
I was snooker crazy as a youngster but my mother made me promise that I would do my Leaving Cert before I went off on my daft odyssey. I can tell you it wasn’t all plain sailing at the start but I was lucky that Eugene Hughes, an established Irish pro on the circuit in the eighties, took pity on me and let me use his house for a number of months as a base while I travelled to pro-ams all over Britain trying to win enough to keep a few bob in my pocket.
The week after I did my last exam in the Leaving in 1988 I was on my way with my cue across the water. After staying with Eugene I lived outside London in Chadwell Heath for quite some time and at one stage had digs on the top floor of a house owned by an eccentric Northern Irishman.
Believe it or not I owe my life to a guy sharing my room who came home late one night to find every gas contraption in the house fully on and with an electric fire ring also glowing in the dark. He shut everything down just in time.
We had to scarper out of the place as I was convinced the landlord had a death wish – in fairness not just for his lodgers because both himself and his wife were also in their beds the night my roommate raised the alarm.
A few years ago I was in the car down that way with my son and I told him the story. The good news is the house is still there so either he had a conversion on the road to Damascus about blowing up places or else he is still totally incompetent at his craft.
I used to joke that long before I became World Champion, I was nearly on top of the world that night. If the explosion had occurred my cue, which was under the bed, would have got there before me.
In real life, winning the World Amateur championship in Singapore the following year (1989) was the leg up my career needed. That opened the door to the professional ranks and while I lost my first three games as a professional, I rallied and was ranked 51st after my first year. I then improved that to 21st the following year and 11th the year after that. Best of all I managed to stay there for 15 years. In ‘97 when I won the World Championship, I was No 2 in the world and would have got to No 1 a few years later except I lost at the quarter-final stage.
Last week in Wolverhampton was enjoyable and was made all the more so because I knew I would get back to Dublin this week for three or four days. I am looking forward to this Saturday in particular as I will be on Radio Sunshine with Reggie (Corrigan) for the sports show and then will build the rest of my day around Dublin playing Mayo on television on Saturday evening.
Defeats aren’t the end of the world at this time of year but it would be nice for Dublin to fight back this weekend after two losses on the trot to Armagh and Kerry. Likewise, I’m not getting too worried over the Irish rugby team following their narrow loss in Paris.
They were good enough in the end to win the match and maybe that defeat will help them realise that they need to back themselves in crucial moment such as occurred when they took the penalty kick instead of going into the corner and chasing a seven-point reward.
If you are an ABU (anyone but United) I’m sure you’re having a right laugh right now but I’m going to wait and see how the next month unfolds. Man U need to shake themselves for sure or they’ll be playing – at best – Europa league next year.
Until next week…
PHOTO – Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
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