Michael Judge returned to the Irish amateur scene with a gavel bang as he stormed his way to victory in the second ranking event of the season in Letterkenny.
20 years a professional on the Main Tour, Judge dropped off in 2011 but didn’t immediately turn his attentions back to the amateur game in Ireland.
However, it hasn’t taken him long to find his feet and it is clear the 37 year-old still has the talent as his 5-1 drubbing of Brendan O’Donoghue in yesterday’s final at the North West Snooker Club would suggest.
As always, Johnny ‘Sniper’ Williams was keeping a close eye on proceedings and here’s his full account of the tournament in Donegal…
By Johnny Williams
I actually felt really good going into this tournament. I had done all the right preparation and felt fairly confident. In my first match I had a tricky opponent in Anthony Bonnar who is high up in the masters rankings, and not to mention Letterkenny is his home club. Both of us started off poorly by missing easy balls and I scraped the first frame. I could see Anthony was struggling to get down on his shots correctly and later I found out he hurt his back two weeks previous – it was very evident in his game. Anyway, the next two frames I started to pot well and got a bit of confidence and finished off with a nice 71 break to win comfortably 3-0.
My second game was another tough draw against a highly rated Keith Sheldreck. In the past we have had very good matches, I think I’ve played him four times and each time it has gone down to a decider. I played really well in this match, had a few 50 breaks and didn’t miss a lot of easy balls. I eventually came out winning 3-1 in what was a good close match.
A funny thing happened in this match, something that has never happened me before. I was 2-0 up, flying, and down to take a yellow into the middle when another player hit my elbow and I accidentally hit the white and barely hit the yellow. I just walked away. Luckily enough John Doherty (tournament director) saw this and told me the rule was for the balls to be replaced. However, my concentration had gone and I missed the pot by two inches. Keith won that frame in the end and in my head I was thinking “ah here we go, it’s not gonna be my day.” But I held myself together and got through in the end.
I was into the last 16 now, playing the up and coming star that is Josh Boileau, also a practice partner of mine. I started off really well going 2-0 up pretty quickly, Josh missed a few long balls in those frames and I just took what was in front of me. Josh pulled the next frame back with a nice break. Then at 2-1 I was 37 points or so ahead, Josh misses an easy enough ball and leaves me plumb amongst the balls. I missed a very easy red and he cleared up to win that frame on the pink I think. Complete lack of concentration on my behalf and now the pressure was on me. The last frame I needed a snooker on the green , got it, then played a poor safety and left Josh match ball to the middle pocket. Over and out. It was a disappointing loss as I felt I was playing well enough to go far in the tournament.
Four players in particular stood out for me over the weekend. Once again, Josh has done really well to make his second semi-final in succession and seems to be maturing very well on the table. Jason Devaney also had a very good tournament, reaching his first semi for a while now. He is an ex Irish champion with tons of potential but like myself can be very inconsistent at times. But when he is on top form, he is undoubtedly a very hard player to beat.
Third man I took note of was a local player by the Name of Gareth Kirwin. I have seen him play before and I knew he was decent but he had some very good early wins – winning his first two matches 3-0 and then getting to a decider with Josh in the quarter-finals. Hats off to him. He should play in more tournaments around the country. Finally, there was the return of Mick Judge, an ex professional on the tour for 20 years. I actually thought he might have struggled a bit coming back to play amateur players, in amateur conditions, but this was not the case. He only dropped a few frames in the entire day. He is a very complete player and if he continues to play in the rest of the events he will be favourite for the number one spot.
The final was contested by Mick himself and the old reliable Brendan O’Donoghue, who is always around for the latter stages in ranking events and one of the best match players I have ever seen. Brendan himself admitted to me that he struggled this weekend with scoring but such is his game he can play poor and still grind out results. In saying that, when he is on top form he can score very heavily and destroy any opponent on a snooker table. For Mick to beat Brendan 5-1 in a final goes to show his class and how well he must have been playing. I didn’t get to see the match myself but I heard it was of a very high standard.
The numbers contesting this event were not overly flattering with a few top players in Colm Gilcreest, Martin Mc Crudden, T.J Dowling and Davy Morris missing but to name a few. 54 players turned up for the weekend which can be understandable as Letterkenny is quite a long distance to travel for some people. My hats go off to the likes of the Limerick and Cork players who made the five and six hour journeys to attend. I’m lucky enough to have my home house in Co. Monaghan and a good fast driver in John Sutton, so it only took me an hour and a half to get up. All that being said, the tournament went absolutely perfectly for once. There was no long waits for matches, the tables were in great condition, the heat in the club was just perfect, and all in all it was a very smoothly run event. They even got to play down to the semi-finals on the Saturday. Yes, of course this was due to the low number of entrants but it went well nevertheless.
I did in fact really like the open draw format. I think it made the event very exciting, the way it worked out with the top half of the draw having all the “big guns” so to speak, and the bottom half being a little easier to progress and that’s what you can get with an open draw. I did actually think going into the event that it was going to be an open draw format the whole way through, with names being pulled out of a hat after each round was completed. However, the way it was ran worked well and maybe they will try the other option another time to spice things up a little.
Our next event is back to Carlow again, and it’s a Double Elimination event which if I’m being truthful I am dreading. I expect high enough numbers to enter as most people will get two chances to progress in this event and with higher numbers comes longer waiting times between games and a very slow event. Not to mention I have no idea how they are going to run this event or what the rules are even. It would be pretty gutting if I came up against the likes of Robert Murphy in an early game and managed to beat him but then for him to meet me again later on and knock me out of the event. So I’m not really sure what to think. There is one thing that is a guarantee and that is the fact that it wont be everyone’s cup of tea and many complaints will be made about it, I can just see it happening.
As was mentioned to me on a few occasions, these new event structures were the ideas of the players who went to the AGM and wanted a change as the numbers playing snooker here were dramatically falling. We have yet to see if this will be a success but you can’t please everyone at the end of the day. Although I’m dreading the next event, if I’m knocked out early and I get a second bite at the cherry and I go far in the tournament I’ll be praising everyone and that’s just how these things go.
In the mean time I have my first World Amateur Championship in Bulgaria to attend from November 23rd to December 3rd and I hope everyone gets behind all of us who are representing Ireland in this event like I would if the roles were reversed. I feel I’m almost at my best, probably around 80% of what I know I can do in practice, and hopefully come two weeks time I shall be fully sharp and ready to give this event my best. Ken Doherty, being the gentleman that he is, has offered to give me a few games the week before I head away which can only do me the world of good.
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