The new campaign is just a matter of days away but let’s first take a look back at the highlights of the 2012/13 campaign with the second annual SHQ Awards.
As was the case twelve months ago, I am lucky enough to be joined by regular contributors Fin Ruane and Johnny ‘Sniper’ Williams.
I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank these two great guys for all their help since I started this site almost exactly two years ago.
Their help, which they give in their own free time and for no remuneration, is always appreciated and helps to add experienced and insightful information – especially to the Irish scene.
Furthermore, I would similarly like to take this opportunity to thank all you regular readers.
Now, all that’s left is to find out the winners of this year’s awards…
Player of the Season
Fin: A few possible candidates here but for me it has to be Mark Selby. A fabulous season by winning the Masters and the UK Championship was somehow slightly soured by his disappointing performance in Sheffield. I have no doubt he’ll be more prepared come Sheffield time next season.
Sniper: My player of the season would have to be ‘The Jester’ Mark Selby. He has shown great consistency all year, retained his number one spot for almost the entire season, he won two major titles and has got to the latter stages of many others. For his consistency alone my nomination has to go to Selby.
SHQ: Truth be told, there hasn’t really been a player of the season for 2012/13 in my opinion. Several competitors have had their moments in the spotlight but each have wilted at other periods of the campaign. Neil Robertson was the most consistent and if he could have laid to claim to more silverware than his solitary China Open success then things would be different. As it is, it’s impossible to look past the fact Mark Selby claimed back-to-back major titles in the form of the UK and Masters so therefore this award goes to the world no.1.
Comeback Player of the Season
Fin: This season saw plenty of comebacks but for me there was only one real comeback and that was the Rocket’s performance at the Crucible. After a full season away from competitive snooker, apart from a single match in an earlier PTC event, O’Sullivan appeared at Sheffield without any match practice but as the tournament progressed began to move through the gears. By the time of his semi-final against Judd Trump he was back to his very best. A fifth world title after a year away? Without doubt, the comeback of the season.
Sniper: My comeback player of the season is someone who has been around for all of my snooker watching days. He has always been consistent but has never won a ranking event until this season. I watched a video of him last season saying this would be his best season and he was true to his word. Winning the Australian Open and getting to the final of the World Championship, giving Ronnie a very good game in the final, ensures that my nomination of course goes to Barry Hawkins.
SHQ: Ronnie O’Sullivan. Nothing else needs to be said here.
Breakthrough Player of the Season:
Fin: Throughout the season several players made their breakthrough to compete at a ranking venue. For me, though, the standout player in this category is Michael White. A former European U-19 champion, White qualified for the Wuxi Classic and International Championship events in China but narrowly lost by the odd frame in both wild card stages. He also made his British television debut at the UKs but lost 6-3 to eventual winner Mark Selby. He finished off a successful season by winning two matches to qualify for the Crucible, furthering his growing reputation by reaching the last 8. A rise from 54 to 34 in the rankings cemented a fine season for the Welshman.
Sniper: My breakthrough player of the season would have to be Jack Lisowski. Like his ex-roommate Judd Trump before him, Lisowski had a great run in the China Open this season. He has been a top-quality snooker player for many years and was just looking for that bit of confidence by getting far in a ranking event. He is playing some fearless snooker with an attacking style that is very similar to Judd’s and looks good under pressure. He had a poor first round performance against Barry Hawkins in this year’s World Champs but if you look what Barry did in the event you might be able to forgive him.
SHQ: There have been quite a few players who have enjoyed what could be coined as emerging seasons. Cases can be made for young English duo Jack Lisowski and Michael White, as can there be arguments given for Indian pair Aditya Mehta and Pankaj Advani. Yet, I’m going for an abstract choice. A player who, for many years, many felt failed to live up to his potential as a youngster. At 33, Barry Hawkins began last season outside the top 16 and possibly pondering what happened to his career. The Kent cueist ended it a ranking event champion and respected World Championship runner-up, not to forget reaching a career high of nine in the world rankings. That’s what you call a breakthrough season.
Controversial Moment of the Season:
Fin: There’s only one moment really for me and that was the conclusion to the Premier League match between John Higgins and Stephen Lee. A series of suspicious shot selections from Lee towards the end of the match raised a few questions among the audience and television viewers alike so it was no surprise to hear that the following week Lee had been suspended from tournament play pending an investigation. The status remains unchanged and one can only deduct that by the length of the investigation a substantial ban may be on the horizon for the Trowbridge man.
Sniper: The most controversial moment of the season for me is very easy – Stephen Lee‘s temporary ban has given me some great entertainment this year. From rumours about him being screwed and not a chance he will ever play again to hearing that World Snooker has no way of proving he was involved in any betting scandal and he would in turn be suing for loss of earning and defamation of character. Not to mention now that Stephen has time on his hands he has been a regular visitor to Irish money events and exhibitions to earn a few bob. We spoke at an event briefly and seems like a cracking chap and his talent is missed greatly on the tour.
SHQ: Joe Jogia tried his best but he couldn’t rival the controversy that has and still does surround Stephen Lee. Suspended following allegations he deliberately threw a Premier League match with John Higgins, further information about misdemeanors came to light and the evidence appears to be heavily stacked against the five-time ranking event champion. In an investigation that has already gone on for too long, expect a conclusion to this fiasco – one way or the other – sooner rather than later.
Match of the Season
Fin: Again, only one real contender here and that was last October’s Shanghai Masters final between Judd Trump and John Higgins. The Scot trailed 5-0 in the best of 19 frame final but a majestic 147 break won Higgins his first frame. Trump finished the afternoon session 7-2 up but by the 18th frame the match was level. A 61 break in the decider saw Higgins win a dramatic match 10-9.
Sniper: My match of the season has to be Judd Trump versus Shaun Murphy in this year’s World Championship. A great scoring match, no player could pull away from the other and we were treated to some brilliant shot making that you would expect from players of their class. Inevitably, this match went down to a deciding frame where Judd showed great nerve to cross the line first. I enjoyed this match a lot.
SHQ: As ever, any season has the ability to conjure up many magical matches and dramatic climaxes but no encounter this season was as high quality or topsy-turvy as Judd Trump’s incredible 13-12 victory over Shaun Murphy in the World Championship quarter-finals. The pair traded blows like brawlers in a ring and defended like caged warriors. More still, in a tournament where it was difficult for the crowd to become engrossed, the titanic tussle reminded us of why the Crucible atmosphere is so special.
Fin: An easy one here. Without question it’s the German Masters. It’s a tournament I haven’t attended yet but come next February I fully intend to travel to Berlin to take in the atmosphere at the Tempodrom. Sold out for almost every session, the German Masters has become a firm fixture on the snooker calendar and a big favourite of the majority of players, officials and fans alike.
Sniper: My best tournament has to go to the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. I get a great buzz every year watching and I didn’t miss a frame this year. Everything down to the commentators, crowd, MC Rob Walker, Twitter and Facebook talk, refs and TV presenters intrigues me – I just love it all! There is a special buzz when it’s on television, and people who never talk about it all year round get involved for the World Championship. Not to mention this year’s had a special ending.
SHQ: I’m not entirely sure any tournament was a standout one. Believe it or not, if I had seen more of it (it finished the weekend I left for South Korea) then I might have chosen the Welsh Open – which appeared to have highly exciting semi-finals and a final won 9-8 by Stephen Maguire. But blindly plumping for that would feel odd so, in that case, I’ll go for the International Championship, which also had an enthralling final between Judd Trump and Neil Robertson. Furthermore, it was refreshing to see another slightly longer formatted tournament.
Moment of the Season
Fin: Several moments here to look at but again for me there was only one I could choose. That was the 10am Saturday morning opening session at the Crucible Theatre on April 20th. MC Rob Walker and the capacity crowd counted down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and right on cue the Rocket reappeared back onto the snooker scene. Box office at its very finest.
Sniper: My moment of the season has to be Ronnie O’Sullivan lifting his fifth World Championship title. The manner in which he approached this year’s championship, showing an unphased persona throughout the entire event, intrigued me very much. He never seemed under pressure and just seemed to get better as the tournament progressed. Not to mention the fact the man stayed away from professional events for 11 months prior. What he achieved here was remarkable. Love him or loathe him Ronnie O’Sullivan in my opinion is the best thing snooker has to offer at the moment and without him the sport would be a lot less interesting to watch. Although I’d sit through Ebdon and McLeod in fairness!
SHQ: Ronnie O’Sullivan lifting the World Championship trophy for the fifth time.
Best Irish Amateur
Fin: Having rarely seen any of the top Irish players in action, last Easter’s Pro Am in CrossGuns was a real treat as the majority of the top boys had entered the comp. Watching the likes of Goggins, Gilcreest and Morris for the first time wasn’t disappointing but one player who I have seen play before and has always lived up to his reputation is John Sutton. Here’s a player you literally have to scrape off the table because ,not only is he a top break builder, he’s a superb match player too. For me, he’s the top one out there at the moment.
Sniper: As clichéd as it might be, my player of the season has to go to David Hogan. He has been the number one ranked player for almost, if not all, of this current season. He has shown great consistency throughout the campaign and has adapted back to the amateur ranks very well after his Main Tour stint. Not to mention he had his first maximum break in competition this season also. I hope he gives the main tour another go because he is more than capable of making a big impact in my opinion.
SHQ: Tough one. David Hogan has been excellent, topping the rankings throughout the campaign with the help of two titles along the way and goes into this weekend’s National Championship conclusion as marginal favourite. Brendan O’Donoghue claimed back-to-back domestic trophies and also reached the final of the 2012 European Championship. 17 year-old Josh Boileau emerged into the big-time by reaching a brace of finals and performing well in Q-School. But for his success in said Q-School only last week, along with a ranking event back home, this accolade, despite technically no longer being an amateur, must go to David Morris.
Player to Look Out for Next Season
Fin: Again, a few players out there but one I’m looking forward to watching again is Indian player Pankaj Advani. He had a superb first season on the Main Tour last season. The highlights were reaching the last 8 of the Welsh Open and the semis of the EPTC1. He also qualified for the International Championship but decided to withdraw to compete in the World Billiards Championship – of which he went on to win. An exciting player from a continent rick with snooker history, he’s without doubt one to look out for next season.
Sniper: My player to look out for next season would probably be Judd Trump. I know some people will say “ah we know how good he is and we know all about him,” but I think he is going to take a lot away from this season. He had a great season in 2011 but 2012 was poor by his standards. I think he let everything go to his head for a while, didn’t practice as hard, enjoyed himself a little too much, and some of his early and mid-season defeats gave evidence of this. I think after seeing what his hero Ronnie has done, he will pick himself up next season and want to shut all his critics up. I think we will see a revitalized Judd Trump next season and a player that is going to get back his number one seeding.
SHQ: And with that, Davy Morris picks up a double late on. With a two-year card the pressure should initially be off the Kilkenny native. The 24 year-old already has vast experience on the Main Tour and could benefit immensely from the change to the formats of all but three of the main ranking events. Once a very hot young prospect, many people would have thought Morris’ chance had come and gone. But look at what the likes of Martin Gould did when he regained his place on the circuit in 2007. Let’s just see what happens.