The qualifying event for the 2013 World Championship came to a conclusion yesterday with a mixture of young and old stealing the headlines.
There will be six hopefuls gracing the Crucible Theatre for the first time – four of them under the age of 25 as a new and exciting dawn for the sport commences.
Sadly, there’ll be no representatives from the Republic of Ireland as both Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien went down to the aspiring debutants.
1997 champion Doherty looked set to complete a miraculous comeback when he won five frames in a row against Matthew Selt to force a deciding frame after trailing 9-4.
But the Englishman weathered the storm to regain the momentum despite missing a gaggle of chances to see off his opponent and actually took the 19th frame rather comfortably to prevail by the odd game.
O’Brien, meanwhile, didn’t even get close to threatening young hot-shot Jack Lisowski, the latter inflicting a heavy 10-4 defeat of the Dublin veteran.
21 year-old Lisowski has been widely tipped all across the sport’s media in the last two or three years as a player who is destined to make it to the big time.
Despite making a cracking start to his professional career by reaching the final of a Players Tour Championship event in 2010, the Cheltenham runner somewhat failed to live up to high expectations until recently – when he beat world number ones Mark Selby and Judd Trump in successive events.
And carrying that form into qualifying at the Badminton Hall in Sheffield, Lisowski totally outplayed two seasoned pros in O’Brien and earlier James Wattana to the sacrifice of only eight frames.
All the qualifiers will prove to be difficult opposition for the Top 16 members (this year Top 15 and reigning champion Ronnie O’Sullivan as top seed) but most will be desperate to avoid Lisowski.
The other four players who will make their maiden appearances at the Crucible this year are Ben Woollaston and Sam Baird of England, Thailand’s Dechawat Poomjaeng and Michael White of Wales.
White, like Lisowski, has often been regarded as a future ranking event champion and he too finally impressed when it mattered most – especially in his 10-4 drubbing of Andrew Higginson.
Woollaston had a tougher time of it and needed all required frames to see off last year’s quarter-finalist Ryan Day but Baird and Poomjaeng both recorded comprehensive 10-3 scorelines.
24 year-old Baird, in particular, produced some scintillating snooker to hammer former semi-finalist Joe Perry – knocking in a 142 total clearance en route to victory.
While almost half of the successful qualifiers are newbies, the rest of the field boasts a huge amount of experience.
Peter Ebdon is a nine-time ranking event winner, including of course the 2002 World Championship itself, and despite enduring a difficult season on the most part the Londoner was able to fight back from 8-6 down to pip Norway’s Kurt Maflin 10-8 in a titanic tussle.
The triumph means that the 42 year-old will compete in Sheffield for an amazing 22nd year in a row, and he too will be another player most will rather avoid.
Elsewhere, Alan McManus makes a return to the venue he twice embarked on runs to the last four in the 1990s for the first time in seven years following a 10-5 win over Tom Ford but Jimmy White could not mimic the achievement, going down by the same scoreline to Robert Milkins.
Neither player reached anywhere near top gear in an encounter that was riddled with a mixture of kicks and poor attacking prowess.
But Gloucester’s Milkins always had the upper hand after winning four frames on the trot to lead 6-2 and it was always going to be an uphill battle for the ‘Whirlwind’ thereafter.
Ranking event winners Dominic Dale and Marco Fu came through against Alfie Burden and David Gilbert respectively with English former Top 16 players Martin Gould, Mark Davis and Mark King also progressing – the latter 10-9 over Yu Delu.
Finally, Michael Holt continued his consistent campaign with a 10-7 ousting of Mark Joyce while Scotland’s Marcus Campbell earned a flattering 10-4 win over Liam Highfield.
So those are the 16 players who have fought off the rest of the challengers to keep their hopes alive of capturing the famous World Championship trophy in three weeks time.
As ever, the qualifying tournament was full of intrigue, excitement and tension but that was simply the entrée with the main course yet to come.
The draw for the last 32 of this year’s World Championship will be made live on Talksport radio station at 1.30pm BST today, Monday.
Crucible Countdown: 5 Days!
The full list of results can be viewed by clicking here.