Ireland has had a long relationship with snooker. Headlines from the 1970s and 80s were dominated by Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor from the North while Dubliner Ken Doherty has taken on the mantle of representing the island since the 1990s.
In that time, snooker clubs have come and gone through the booms of the sport – a few years ago it seemed like twelve months wouldn’t go by without a handful of the most notorious clubs in the country closing their doors.
However, one club in Dublin has stood the test of time and remains blossoming after 53 years in existence.
A family run business, CrossGuns Snooker Club in the heart of Phibsboro has lived through three generations and Finbarr Ruane, the current proprietor, regales how it all began.
“My Grandfather, Christopher Carroll, was a prominent business man at the time – when I mean prominent, he sort of had his finger on the pulse – he knew what was going on property wise and he liked snooker because he used to play a bit in the old clubs around Dublin. So he opened one up, bought it for the princely sum of £1000 and built it from scratch.
After it opened my mum got married and my dad and grandfather hit it off immediately. He was from the west of Ireland and liked snooker also so when my grandfather passed away it was left to him, and to me since.”
Having spent his entire childhood around the surroundings of clattering balls, waistcoats and big breaks it is not really a surprise that Fin found himself encapsulated by the game from an early age and it wasn’t before long that he took snooker up himself.
“I was born in 1969 and I used to come in after school to say hello to my dad when I was seven. Then I would loiter around more and more a few years later and try and get on a table but I’d wait and wait and there’d never be one free, it was so busy.
I was fascinated by the game and by the early 80s I was playing the likes of Ken Doherty and Stephen Murphy in the juniors and I did quite well as an amateur. I never won a ranking tournament but I made it to a lot of semi-finals.
I was able to play junior and senior for Ireland and decided I’d give it a shot. We all went to London around the time when they had opened up the game so that more people could become professional – we had a house and there was Stephen, Ken, Anthony O’Connor from Cork and myself.”
After a while, though, it became apparent that the dedication that came from the long hours of practice coupled with the constant pressure of travelling to events around the UK was taking its toll.
“I was around 17 or 18 at the time and we played a lot of pro-ams. At one stage I just took a step back and looked at how Ken would approach a tournament weekend. He’d practice more than the rest of us and he’d get an early night on the Friday before the train journey up to Willie Thorne’s in Leicester or somewhere else in the UK for a big event.
I came to the conclusion that, you know what, this isn’t for me. I knew I always had something to fall back on so I came home and began working for my parents.”
When Fin’s father, Finbarr Ruane Snr., died in 1992 there was a choice on whether to go full-time with the club or try once more at the professional game.
At the time, the likes of Ken Doherty, Fergal O’Brien and Stephen Murphy were all making inroads on the circuit as a new dawn for Irish snooker beckoned. Yet, it turned out to be an easy decision.
“The building and place is sort of in my blood. I didn’t want to give it to anyone else and people to this day still come in and say that I run it the same way as my dad would have. It is strictly snooker – no pool tables, no machines and I’ve always said that it is the type of snooker club I’d always want to walk into.”
After Dennis Taylor won the 1985 World Championship, clubs began to open frequently as everyone wanted to be the next snooker legend.
“There was clubs opening absolutely everywhere. It was incredible because I remember playing league snooker and there was eleven divisions with about ten teams in each division. My dad used to say that during the winter you could do with an extra ten tables because of how busy it would get.
That tailed off around the start of the 90s and it sort of died for a few years because by opening up the pro circuit it completely killed the amateur game. Every Tom, Dick or Harry was trying their hand and I don’t think that amateur snooker has recovered since.”
As a result, Fin watched snooker clubs around him crumble from a mixture of a weakening economy and an ailing sport.
Like most, he attributes the turnaround in fortunes for snooker in general over the last couple of years to one man – Barry Hearn.
“I think everyone knew who was involved in snooker that there is only one man who can sort this out. And he came at just the right time really because the sport was nearly dead. You can see what he has done for darts by jazzing it up a little bit and that is exactly what snooker needs.
Some people would say to me what is with this walk-on music but I have never seen anything like it in my like when Judd Trump and John Higgins came out into The Crucible for the final of the World Championship last year. It was fantastic and that’s a bit of razzmatazz.
As much as I go way back with Higgins, I wanted Trump to win it because it would have been the final jigsaw piece – a new dawn, a new era and a new man but I think he’ll win it yet anyway.”
While Ronnie O’Sullivan was undoubtedly the player that inspired a generation to pick up a snooker cue with his flamboyant speed and entertaining style, it is evident that Trump will be the next.
“I see the kids come in here with the Judd Trump haircuts, the little earrings and they are playing exactly the way he plays. You can see that they idolise him, they like the way he plays and they like his style – even down to whatever that is he wears as a dicky-bow. He’s a bit flash and you need that to help get the kids involved early on.”
Developing and nurturing young players is something that Fin feels very strongly about and takes pride in being able to coach some of the teenage talent at CrossGuns.
Indeed, he feels that more should be done not only Ireland, but by World Snooker as well, to establish bigger junior tournaments that would help to raise the profile of the next era.
CrossGuns already stages a couple of Irish ranking events on the amateur scene each campaign but will also be hosting the Irish qualifying event for the 2012 Snookerbacker Classic next January.
The new tournament is the perfect opportunity for young amateur players to gain invaluable experience competing for a place at Qualifying School for the Main Tour next season.
“It’ll be fantastic. It will be in the winter, it’ll be busy and there will be an atmosphere in here. Leading up to it I will make a big push to advertise the tournament around Dublin especially and the lads will come in to support and watch it so it will be brilliant.
It’s a great prize – it’s the type of thing that if it was around in my day I would have jumped at it with two hands.”
A down to earth atmosphere and a no-nonsense attitude makes it obvious how CrossGuns remains popular with the punters and open after more than half a century.
The likes of Jimmy White, Dennis Taylor, Alex Higgins and Joe Swail have all strut their stuff there and, who knows, a future world champion may come out of the club itself one day.