This time three years ago, Vincent Muldoon was one of Ireland’s hottest prospects on the snooker scene.
Having won the Irish Championship in 2007, the Galway potter repeated the feat the following year as well as topping the Irish Senior rankings to earn his professional Main Tour place at only 17 years of age. In hindsight, that opportunity probably came at just the wrong time and through no fault of his own.
The 2008/2009 snooker season boasted a paltry eight ranking tournaments, making it extremely difficult for newcomers to emerge on the scene and maintain their newly acquired shot at the professional game. Despite some excellent performances, Muldoon fell short of the automatic Top 64 places that would have granted him a ticket back for the subsequent season and has since been unable to reap the rewards of the sport’s revival.
“There was 8 tournaments and I won 8 matches,” reflects Muldoon on his year on the circuit. “I got to three third rounds in qualifying which for a first time player on the main tour is really good. But the odd tournament just let me down on the day and I lost in the first round of both the UK Championship and the Worlds which was costly.”
Indeed, if he had won his match with Jimmy White in that season’s World Championship qualifiers Muldoon may still be on the tour today. As it is, he had to return home and watch from the sidelines as Barry Hearn’s intuitive ideas reformed snooker’s ailing image.
“The promotion of the game has changed unbelievably in the last year to eighteen months since Barry Hearn was elected Chairman. He’s trying to create an effect like he has done with darts and has made it a lot more exciting for every kind of player. He’s revolutionised the qualifying criteria to get onto the Main Tour and instead of having to play all year long in the old PIOS system, players can now do some hard practice in preparation for Q School. It has made it a lot more reachable for Irish players to get onto the professional Main Tour.”
Yet, while Kilkenny’s David Morris came through Qualifying School with a nail-biting pink ball victory over Michael Wild last week, Muldoon was unable to contest the three-week battle for the 12 available places because of his commitment to completing his degree course in NUI Maynooth. Muldoon’s final exams clashed with the inaugural Q School and his hopes of regaining that elusive Tour place for next season now rests with the European Championships next week.
“I have the European Championships in Bulgaria in June which I am going to be dedicating all my time to so hopefully I will perform well enough in that.”
Countryman David Hogan won the 2009 European Championship to earn a season as a professional so Muldoon can be confident that an Irish player has achieved the feat in the past. Hogan, though, is ironically the player preventing Muldoon from an automatic place on the circuit for the 2011/12 campaign having finished ahead of his compatriot in the recent Irish rankings.
With the likes of Muldoon, Hogan and Morris – as well as 18 year-old Jason Devaney who won the Irish Championship a fortnight ago – the talent in Ireland looks promising after many years without a star player. 1997 World Champion Ken Doherty has dropped down the rankings, while old stalwarts Joe Delaney and Michael Judge dropped off the Tour entirely at the end of last season. However, where he and Hogan were unfortunate in being provided their chance at the tail end of snooker’s recession, there is more scope for younger players to develop their games and temperament throughout the longer campaigns of snooker’s new boom.
“I think that is mainly due to the fact that the Players Tour Championship events have given youngsters like Liam Highfield and Jack Lisowski the freedom of getting match experience without having their whole year depending on what they do at one tournament. When I was on the Tour, there was only 8 tournaments and it was either you win or you bust. Now there are more than 20 events and you have more leeway to develop your game and confidence over time and to not be under so much pressure.”
That said, Muldoon doesn’t attach snooker’s dramatic fall in popularity in the last decade solely at the hands of the World governing body and rues the lack of effort made in his home nation to develop emerging talent. This would possibly have counteracted against the constant dependence on old campaigners like Doherty and Fergal O’Brien to fly the green, white and gold for Ireland.
“There could have been a lot more done, I think there could have been a lot more done 10 years ago. Unfortunately for Ireland, though, the market here isn’t as big as the market in, say, China and you have to take that into account as well. Is there enough people to do it? But something not to the extent of China could have been done here to raise the awareness of the sport. I still hope it can be something that can be achieved in the future.”
Muldoon plans to continue balancing his education with his snooker career as he prepares to undertake a postgraduate degree next year but believes time is on his side and that it is important to have a reserve option if things go wrong.
“To a certain degree, yes it will hinder my progress I suppose but with snooker you need a back-up plan. You hear a lot about the likes of Judd Trump who make it but you don’t hear a lot about those who are not as fortunate and have nothing to fall back on. I am just conscious of not putting all my eggs into one basket. But I absolutely know that I’ve got the game and I know what it takes now. It’s just a matter of dedication and putting in the hours of practice.”
Muldoon may certainly have his feet planted firmly on the ground but one has to think that the time to strike is now while he oozes youth and exuberance. Despite the fact that he’ll only be 21 when he finishes his Masters, a lot of time will have passed between his first professional year and his potential second.
At the back of his mind is also a heavy €1000 bet that a relative has placed on his shoulders for Muldoon to win the World Championship by the time he is 25. That may be asking for too much but Muldoon certainly has the ability to go far in the sport. It is simply a question of whether he can obtain that chance to prove himself as a professional once more.
The EBSA European Championship runs from 7th to 17th of June and features Irish players Vincent Muldoon, Robert Murphy and Martin McCrudden. The overall winner earns a Main Tour card as a professional.