Yesterday it was announced that the Dublin qualifying leg for the 2013 Snookerbacker Classic in CrossGuns is to be cancelled, with insufficient numbers and a lack of paid entry fees being cited as the primary reasons.
It is a great shame because the event has been a big success over in England since its launch in 2011.
This proved to be the case last year when inaugural champion Martin O’Donnell emerged victorious from Q-School and earned his berth on the Main Tour.
However, the event has failed to take off in Ireland. I caught up with the man behind the Snookerbacker Classic to find out why he made the difficult decision to pull the event.
“I set deadlines in December and I realise that payment was a bit difficult coming up to Christmas but I had got absolutely no entry fees. The thing as well is that I’ve only got 12 places filled out of the 16 I wanted, and of those there’s only about five or six of them that I’ve had personal contact with. The others have come through either Fin (Ruane) or Johnny Williams.”
“I realise there’s a clash with another RIBSA event, which had been put on after my date had been set, but that’s their business. I know absolutely nothing about RIBSA.
“I’m just really disappointed. I liked the idea of it being a UK and Ireland tournament. I don’t want to have it like an England-centric sort of tournament, which is what it’s turning into. But at the end of the day it’s down to supply and demand, and if the demand is here in England then I’ve got to go with that. I’m not doing this as a charity – as much as I love the game and I want to big it up I don’t want to end up out-of-pocket. The expenses do rack up, I’ve got to pay referees and advertise it properly and stuff like that.
“Maybe part of the reason why it’s not taking off in Ireland is because I’m expecting the winner to pay for flights to come over for the Finals weekend a month later. For some that’s a big ask. For some it isn’t, Johnny and John Sutton made the trip last year but I understand that’s not what everybody is looking for. But at the end of the day there is a cash prize as well – they don’t have to go to Q-School, there is that alternative there as well and maybe that message hasn’t got through clearly enough. Or maybe there’s just not enough players.
“I know that Johnny and John said that they got loads out of the tournament last season and I was hoping that the message they took back would have sifted through a bit. But what can you do? As the director of the event I’ve got to take it where I can see people are keen to participate.
“Last year there were only eight players and I was worried that I might come over this time and the same thing would happen again. The fact that players weren’t listening to deadlines for entry worried me. Perhaps they were thinking that they could just turn up and pay on the day but that’s not the way I like to run things.
“A lot of players over here will simply enter for the experience, younger players and that, and then there’s a big bunch of them who will enter everything here and they really want to win it – and get the Q-School prize. Maybe it’s just because it’s more convenient for people here.
“Whether it’s right or not, things are very focussed on England. If anybody over in Ireland wants to be the next Ken Doherty or Fergal O’Brien they’re going to have to come over and commit at least half of their year here playing tournaments. But it’s up to each individual’s personal circumstance, whether they can get money or financial backing and that.
“I think I’d have to think very seriously before scheduling another event in Ireland to be honest. I’d need some kind of solid commitment from the players more than anything and perhaps maybe even official backing from the governing body that they’re not going to stage another event on the same day.
“I’d really like to, though. My dad was Irish so I’ve got an affinity with the country anyway. I’m gutted because the lads that I’ve met over there have been great and I was really looking forward to meeting a few more of them. I can’t speak highly enough of Johnny, every time I put something on Facebook he tells everyone – you could never accuse him of being scared of any of the other players because he tells everyone about the events. And Fin as well, he has been fantastic.
“I’d love to get something off the ground there. But I wanted to do it properly – over here I’ll have a meet and greet with all the players, try to get to know them better and give them players’ packs and all that sort of thing so I didn’t want to go over there and have only 8 players turn up. It belittles the tournament really, especially when I’ve got people banging on my door wanting another event here.
“I suppose it’s all about ambition and nobody’s going to get anywhere if they stay in Ireland, particularly now with the tour place lost. They’ve got to move and they’ve got to travel if they want to make anything of themselves.”
From my point of view this is a completely wasted opportunity for players in this country – and a completely shortsighted approach on behalf of RIBSA.
The date of the SB Classic was an issue last season and was purposely set in stone last May for 2013 so problems like a clash with another event wouldn’t arise again.
Yet, the Munster Club Team Championship has since been scheduled for the same weekend, effectively ensuring that all the players from that region – a big one – would not have been available to compete.
Can they not see a good thing when it is handed on a plate for them? Is the sport that institutionalised in this country that any foreign interest is ignorantly shunned?
I don’t claim to know everything about the game here but it is clear that snooker is in a state of disillusionment in this country.
This, of course, hasn’t simply occurred because of the withdrawal of the SB Classic event, but the wider issues at hand have at least been highlighted.
From top to bottom, where is the ambition to succeed? Answers on a postcard.
(NOTE: Since writing this article it has been brought to my attention that RIBSA don’t decide the date of the Munsters. However, as the governing body, this does not change the fact that they could be trying harder to encourage and accommodate newer initiatives.)