Promising young Scotsman Scott Donaldson won the European Snooker Amateur Championship in Latvia yesterday, beating Ireland’s Brendan O’Donoghue 7-3 in the final.
18 year-old Donaldson actually upset both of Ireland’s top players as he overcame Rodney Goggins 6-2 in the semi-final while O’Donoghue whitewashed Donaldson’s compatriot James McBain in the other last four clash.
Donaldson’s reward is the last place available on the professional circuit, a two-year card that will guarantee his place on the Main Tour for the next two campaigns.
Having already missed two qualifying tournaments for Wuxi and Australia, Donaldson suffers the unfortunate mishap of having to already play catch-up but the rookie will undoubtedly be looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead.
The defeat for O’Donoghue marks the second time in as many years that an Irishman has come runner-up in the flagship European amateur event after Vincent Muldoon narrowly lost out to Daniel Wells in 2011.
However, for two players from Ireland to be among the final four proves that there is still the quality and potential among the amateur scene in this country to compete with some of the very best across the continent.
It is a shame that the likes of O’Donoghue, Goggins and Muldoon, who between them won seven out of the eight tournaments on the national scene last season, did not attend Q-School in May because, as their results have testified, all three would have been serious contenders for the twelve spots on offer.
Their reasons for not doing so are more than likely personal. The increased level of travel involved on the Main Tour, the financial burden of costs and expenditure, the lack of prize money in the early rounds of qualifying to support these costs and the non-existence of key sponsorship have no doubt all accumulated in such a way that the weight of pressure to compete professionally is simply too heavy.
However, with there being only two players from the county now on the Main Tour – veterans Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien – the state of the game here is at a crucial crossroads.
Supporting grass-roots is all well and good to increase numbers playing the game across the island.
But if there’s nobody to aspire to, or be inspired by, then the numbers of those attempting to make the big-time are going to continue to dwindle.
Governing Body RIBSA, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, lost its automatic pro-ticket nomination for the top ranked amateur for this season but it would be surprising if that did not return for next year given the fact that the Main Tour is increasing its numbers from 96 to 128.
If it doesn’t, a serious level of support needs to be given and a radical change in attitude will be essential – across the board.
Irish snooker has already been left behind, the last decade or so is testament to that, and the days of ranking titles, World Championships and top 16 players are over.
Now it is a simple case of survival, and making sure that in the foreseeable future the presence of Irishmen in the professional environment doesn’t go altogether extinct.