Ken Doherty says he can still turn it on against the big guns like Ronnie O’Sullivan

Fresh from running Ronnie O’Sullivan extremely close at the UK Championship, Ken Doherty described seeing “green shoots of progress” last week, but also admitted he’s not quite sure how much longer he’ll remain on snooker’s full tour.

Former World Snooker Champion Doherty, from Ranelagh, came within a couple of shots of defeating the supremely talented world number three in York. Nonetheless, he’ll wait until the end of the year to make a decision on whether he wants to continue on the tour, and is looking forward to playing the masters games that now lie ahead of him.

Those include a return to County Kildare’s Goffs on January 5 and 6 where Doherty worked as an usher as a teenager and watched several of his heroes.

“It’s nostalgic for me, yeah, it’s a special place,” Doherty told the Dublin Gazette of the venue.

“I didn’t do much work when I was there,” he jokes. “I was meant to be showing people to their seats but I usually just watched the games. I met Alex Higgins for the first time, one of my heroes.

“I was getting his drinks and he told me if he asked for an orange juice, that meant a vodka and orange juice, and that if he asked for a vodka and orange juice, that meant a double.”
Doherty’s enthusiasm for the masters tour is immediately evident.

“It’s great fun,” he says, “Like a breath of fresh air. You never lose that competitive spirit, and people like Jimmy White and Stephen Hendry, we still get a kick out of playing. It’s really well supported, and we get to play at places like The Crucible, too. It’ll only grow, especially as people like Joe Swail and James Wattana come on board in the next few years.”

Doherty’s game, he says, is not quite what it once was, but he has his days. “I can still do it on a good day, occasionally, as I think the game with Ronnie showed,” he says. “I think 1997 Ken could probably give 2018 Ken a head start of about 14, 18 points. On my day, though, I still have it, and I might cause a big upset.”

O’Sullivan’s win was followed by a debate over the format of the snooker championship, which O’Sullivan feels is too demanding. Doherty emphatically disagrees. “You don’t have to play every tournament, it’s not that tough,” the Dubliner says. “You only have to play maybe ten tournaments in a year. There were some good ideas in there. You could look at averaging out the best ten tournaments, for example, but you either want to play or you don’t.”

While perhaps not at the highest level for much longer, Doherty quite definitely still wants to play. We take a moment to slip into nostalgia, and he recalls his 1997 World Snooker Championship with obvious enthusiasm.

“There was no crime in Dublin for three hours,” he laughs. “It was the first time that RTE had televised the snooker and half the country didn’t have the BBC back then. I got an open top bus tour when I got back to the city, which was something else.”

“I was lucky, as I grew up next to Jason’s in Ranelagh, and I used to go in and play until my tea was ready as a kid. Sometimes I’d go back afterwards. Now I have my own little hall in Terenure, with a few tables.”

It just might be nearing its top-tier conclusion, but for Doherty, it’s been quite the ride.

The Irish Masters Snooker Championships takes place at Goffs in Kill, County Kildare on January 5 and 6. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster.