Probably the most lucrative tournament in the calendar begins on Sunday as Q-School returns for a second season.
Lucrative, you ask? Well, for the twelve hopefuls that emerge from the trenches in this battle of the amateurs, they will have the opportunity to compete for over £7million worth of prize money next season.
In addition, this year’s dozen will gain a two-year exemption onto the Main Tour, as opposed to the solitary season that those from last year were granted with, which means ample opportunity to survive in the cut-throat environment of the professional snooker circuit.
Q-School takes on a similar guise to that of 12 months ago with three separate best-of-seven events taking place over a three-week period.
The semi-finalists in each of the three tournaments will earn their right to mix it with the cream of the crop in the sport for the next two campaigns.
England’s Adam Duffy and David Gilbert were proof of the success of the scheme to fast-track amateurs into the pro game – both breaking into the Top 64 last season with the latter enjoying an amazing run to the last 16 of the World Championship at the Crucible.
There will be six players from the Republic of Ireland competing and, with the retraction of a nomination for the National Governing Body RIBSA, this is one of the last remaining avenues for the Irish contingent on the Main Tour to be bolstered.
As it stands, only veterans Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien are guaranteed to be competing next season – a paltry amount for a country that has for a long time prided itself in producing competitive talent.
Of the six, I caught up for a brief Q+A with three of the guys making the trip across the Irish Sea this weekend.
Joe Delaney had been on and off the professional circuit for 20 years before dropping off conclusively in 2011 but has enjoyed a successful campaign on the Irish scene, claiming the last ranking event of the season in Navan a few weeks ago and lies second in the rankings behind Rodney Goggins.
John Sutton was one of only two players to survive the inaugural Snookerbacker Classic – where he was runner-up to Martin O’Donnell – thus earning the £1,000 entry fee into Q-School.
16 year-old Josh Boileau is one of Ireland’s hottest young prospects. In 2011 he claimed the National Under-16s title, he is the current Under-19 National champion and has often been referred to highly by SHQ‘s Johnny Williams at RIBSA events this season.
SHQ: How has the season been so far, what have the preparations been like?
Delaney: I started the season slowly but have been playing really well lately, have a new cue and preparations are going very well.
Sutton: The season started really well for me, doing well in the first few PTC events and then getting to the final of the first points tournament in Carlow. I beat Joe Delaney, Josh Boileau, Brendan O’Donoghue and Vincent Muldoon along the way but when I stopped playing the PTCs I lost a bit of sharpness. Thankfully, it came back to me for the SB Classic, where I played really well, and recently I won a big tournament in Fairview. I’ve been practicing hard for the last couple of weeks on the pro table in Celbridge with Joe Delaney so I’m nice and ready.
Boileau: It’s been a pretty good season really. I’ve won two National Championships and other tournaments too. I also played in the European Under-21 Championship in Bulgaria which was brilliant and I was happy with how I played. I would have liked to win a few more tournaments and have been a bit more consistent but overall I’m pretty happy with it. My preparations for Q-School have been great. I’m playing three hours most days now and hopefully the hard work will pay off next week.
SHQ: How do you assess your chances of qualifying from Q-School?
Delaney: I think I’ve a good chance over there, but it’s gonna be tough. There’s a lot of ex-professionals and top amateurs so it should be good.
Sutton: If I play to the best of my abilities for just a couple of days I stand a great chance.
Boileau: I’m pretty confident with my chances of qualifying. There’s so many good players in the competition so if I do qualify I’ll be delighted but either way it’ll be a great experience for me.
SHQ: Does the format suit you?
Delaney: The matches are short but that’s the way it is now so you have to start quickly.
Sutton: I have played in this arena at the PTC last season with the same format so I know what to expect. Same tables and first to four – just like the PTC.
Boileau: The format suits me just fine. Best-of-sevens are quite short matches so if you don’t start well you’re making life difficult for yourself. I’m just gonna give it my best shot and see what happens.
SHQ: Are there any players competing that you would hope to avoid?
Delaney: You have to be ready to beat any player so there’s no player to avoid. There’s no easy draws – you need to play solid in all matches and have a little luck as well.
Sutton: Any of the Irish lads – it’d be a shame to draw each other.
Boileau: Not at all, I don’t mind who I play. The standard is high and every match will be difficult no matter what so hopefully I can just play well and see how I do really.
SHQ: What would it mean to you to gain a two-year tour card?
Delaney: It would be good to get back on for couple of seasons because you wouldn’t have the pressure of falling off with the two-year card. You could enjoy it and pick and choose the competitions you want to enter.
Sutton: Well I have wanted this for so long now so it would mean the world and it’s for two years this time instead of just one so I would have time to adjust to life as a pro.
Boileau: It would mean a lot . Ever since I started playing snooker I’ve dreamt of being a professional. One year on the tour would be brilliant but two years means you can relax, enjoy it and gain a lot of experience playing the top pros.
Good luck to the three lads as they begin their quest to join the professional ranks, and also the best of luck to the rest of the Irish contingent over in Sheffield: Jason Devaney, Kevin O’Leary and Dessie Sheehan.