By Fin Ruane
My first memory of being around snooker was the World Amateur Championship in Dublin in 1974. I was five years of age and my dad who was chairman of RIBSA at the time brought me to a match. To say I was captivated by the game is an understatement and 37 years later the sport still fascinates me. I’ve been lucky enough to represent my country at both junior and senior level,
I’ve watched and followed one of my closest friends Ken Doherty around the world on the pro tour – the highest point being his world title win in 1997 – and all the time running my own club, the famous CrossGuns of Dublin.I began playing when I was around eleven years of age and with some help from the great Richie Dunne I was soon one of the top juniors in the country.
I started to play league snooker for CrossGuns in 1982 and was proud to be a member of some of the best league winning teams to have ever represented the club over the next 25 years. Such was the boom in snooker that the first time I played leagues there were 11 divisions with 12 or 14 teams each! Snooker was thriving in Ireland and coupled with Dennis Taylor’s famous black ball win in 1985 clubs were opening up everywhere.
Selection for the 1984 Junior Home Internationals in Great Yarmouth, England was a very proud moment for me and especially for my father, who was a lifelong member of RIBSA and oversaw two World Amateur Championships in Dublin. Along with Ken Doherty, who I had become good friends with on the circuit, I travelled over to England with high hopes.
To say it was an eye opener was an understatement. To go from playing on club tables to playing on top class pro tables was one thing, but to play players of a higher standard, especially the England team who had Martin Clark, Mark Johnson Allen, Jeff Cundy and Anthony Harris meant that we were totally out of our league. Of course, it was Ken who adapted better to the conditions. He was our team captain and best player and even at that time he showed the potential that has since been fulfilled. We finished 4th ahead of Nothern Ireland, so at least we had something to brag about. Incidentally, the North was captained by Joe Swail who has to this day remained a close friend of mine.
As standards improved back home, both in tables and with players, we only had to wait until 1988 for the junior team to make their mark in the competition. The Ireland team that won the Home Internationals that year consisted of Ken, Anthony O’Connor of Cork and probably the most natural player to ever come out of Ireland in Stephen Murphy. They brushed all aside and laid down the gauntlet that Irish snooker had a promising future. Our senior team of which I played on in 1986 still had some way to go but the signs were there that it was only a matter of time before they would achieve the same feat. Indeed, Gay Burns’s fantastic third place finish at the 1986 World Amateur Championships in New Zealand was testament of the increasing standard in Ireland.
The ranking events in the country continued to be great events, tournaments such as the Cork Open, The Connaught Masters and the Leinster Open drew huge entries. The standard was reaching levels never seen before and although I continued playing I struggled to find any consistent form. I had several quarter-finals, and several semi-finals were to be my best achievements but it was clear that a select few were rising faster than others. The young generation of Ken, Stephen, Anthony O’Connor, Sid O’Connor, Gay Burns and Damien McKiernan were looking for their next challenge and it was obvious to all were it was going to take them.
Next week ’The London Years’