The IBSF World Amateur Championship gets under way on Saturday with three of Ireland’s best taking part in Bulgaria.
Last weekend saw the country make its successful transition into the professional realms of the sport but that wouldn’t have happened only for the foundation set by regularly staging major amateur tournaments.
Indeed, the event in Sofia will be the second in Bulgaria in the last 18 or so months after hosting the European Championship in the summer of 2011.
Tipperary’s Brendan O’Donoghue, runner-up to Scott Donaldson in this year’s Euros in Lativa, Cork’s Greg Casey and Johnny Williams of Monaghan will be the Irish representatives this year.
Antrim’s Mark Allen won the Worlds in 2004 but this trio will be hoping to emulate Ken Doherty and Stephen O’Connor, who were the last champions from south of the border in 1989 and 1990 respectively.
I caught up with regular SnookerHQ contributor Williams before his flight to the south-east of the continent as the ‘Sniper’ was making the final preparations for his first major international tournament as a senior individual.
“Obviously to be picked to play for your country in any sport is a great feeling. I was lucky enough to get my place this year with a few top players pulling out, now all I want to do is prove that I deserve a place in the Irish squad and play my best over there.
“My game at the moment is very good I feel. After getting coaching with PJ Nolan last week and having had good match practice with the likes of John Sutton and Josh Boileau all this week I’m sure to be match sharp heading over to Bulgaria. Not to mention I think my game suits tables that play more like the pro tables on which I practice on in Maynooth. And from what I’m told the Shender tables over here are quite similar with the exception of the corner pockets being bigger. I feel exactly where I want to be heading over there.”
With no fewer than 20 – yes that’s right, 20 – five-man groups consisting of players from all around the world and with a seismic range of playing ability, a key element of the first stage is the luck of the draw.
On that note, O’Donoghue and Casey received kind draws with topping their group a distinct possibility but Williams has been handed the prospect of a former professional in China’s Jin Long and last year’s semi-finalist Kamal Chawla of India.
However, the trio have the added advantage of knowing that the top three from each group advance to the knockout stage.
“Without a doubt I have the toughest draw out of the Irish players with both Jin Long and Kamal Chawla in my group but I’m really excited to play these players. I have never played an Asian player before nor have I played in a World Championship so I’m absolutely buzzing for this event. I’m not going to approach those two players any differently to the other players in the group, I know my top game can beat any amateur and I’m going to play how I know best. I am an attacking player and sometimes it doesn’t pay off but I’m sticking to my guns and if I win I win. I see the likes of Trump and Ronnie playing and even if they are playing bad they’re still going for their shots. Now I know I’m not in their ability bracket but I’m going to approach this tournament with the same mentality.
“Although this is my first major tournament, I still have high enough expectations of myself. I know players in Ireland that have gone very far in these events and I have beaten them in the past. I know my A-game is good enough to compete against these players and all I can hope for is that my A-game comes to Bulgaria with me from the Maynooth practice table.
“If I get a game or two under my belt and play well I’ll feel confident and at home over there. To be honest, if I didn’t make the last 32 I would be disappointed. And if I go any further than the last 16 I would be delighted. That’s all I’ll say for now.
“Vinnie Muldoon gave me a little pep talk last week and told me that the way I played him over the last two years in practice is good enough to even win this tournament. It was a nice boost of confidence, but that is everyone’s problem, buzz in practice and then they can’t reproduce that form on match day. All I want to do is play to the best of my ability. If I’m beaten playing my best I won’t be as disheartened as if I played my B-game and know I could have defeated a top-class player playing better.”
This will be one of the 25 year-old’s first experiences of travelling abroad with the national team and he’s intent on making the most of his time, both on and off the baize.
“I can’t wait for Sofia – new people, different culture, the buzz of the whole event. Not to mention I have an American friend living over there with her own house. She is fluent and told me she will take me around the place and give me a guided tour. I’ve been told our hotel is amazing and the atmosphere is something very special.”
In September, Williams, Casey and O’Donoghue were in the triumphant Irish team at the Home Internationals in Wales – the country’s first success in the annual event in 11 years – and the ‘Sniper’ believes he and his two former teammates have a good chance of reaching the business end of the World Amateurs as well.
“Yes Brendan and Greg are the other two players playing in the men’s event. Both are very experienced and talented players at international level. Both have great chances of going far in the tournament but, as history has shown, Brendan would be the stand out favourite from us three to go on and win the tournament. Mind you, Greg is playing very good snooker at the moment. He got his first 147 in October and his coaching has been paying off. He also got to the final of the 147 Wexford Celtic Ferries Open there on Sunday, beating Mick Judge 3-0 along the way. All playing our best we can go far in this event, I have no doubts.”
The tournament runs from the 24th November to the 2nd of December and good luck to all three of the Irish lads in contention.
Irish number one Mart Tuite and Brendan Cooney will be competing in the Masters event.
Stay tuned for more insight from Bulgaria as Johnny blogs on his experience in Sofia next week.
The full draw for the round robin stage can be viewed by clicking here.