The last few years haven’t been too plentiful for Irish snooker on the professional scene.
While veteran Dubliners Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien have maintained the status as the country’s best, not many have been able to challenge their long-term duopoly.
There have been a few primary reasons for this.
First of all, a couple of years ago there seemed like a transition period was taking place.
Stalwarts Michael Judge and Joe Delaney, who both appeared at the Crucible in their time, dropped off the circuit.
At the same time, it appeared as though a new guard was emerging to take their place.
The likes of Vincent Muldoon, David Hogan and Brendan O’Donoghue promised much but ultimately failed to deliver and are now either back in the amateur set-up or, in Muldoon’s case, have given up on the sport altogether – for the time being at least.
To confound matters, around this juncture World Snooker decided to take away, what was forever, an automatic invitation onto the Main Tour for he who finished top of the national rankings. A major blow for RIBSA and the future of Irish snooker in general.
Also during this period, there was a certain David Morris – arguably the most heralded of Emerald players at the time.
Morris looked set to break into the higher echelons when he broke inside the world’s top 64 in 2010 but his progression stuttered and he eventually lost his pro status in 2012.
After a year back in the Irish scene, the Kilkenny cueist immediately rejoined the tour with success in Q-School last May and has since been one of the early season stars.
A quarter-final appearance at the Wuxi Classic has been consolidated by decent displays in most of the other tournaments and the 24 year-old, in only a few months, has already risen more than 30 places in the world rankings.
Morris’ prior experience should stand him in good stead and the fact that only three of the elite top 16 are in their 20s should be of great inspiration to him.
But why is Morris the only one?
Well, the second, and biggest, reason is money.
A lot can be, and has been, said about Barry Hearn’s fantastic regime so far in which he has almost tripled total prize money with the influx of several new tournaments.
But it is easy to forget that being on the Main Tour does not come without its own price.
Travel costs, accommodation, entry fees and the basics like food and drink all come into play when entering an event.
Waterford’s Douglas Hogan competed as an amateur in the recent Bluebell Wood Open – a Euro Tour event in Doncaster.
He won his opening match against England’s Sean Hopkin but was whitewashed in the next round by Oliver Lines – Peter’s son and a rising player.
Hogan admitted in a recent comment on this site that “[I’m] not sure when I’ll play again in these, the ones in the Midlands cost about £300 and the ones in Europe >£500.”
To put this into context, Hogan would have had to win five – that’s right, five – more matches to earn any money, which would have been £600 for reaching the last 64.
That’s a tough school, and if amateur players are entering all of these satellite events it’s a damned expensive one at that.
The Bluebell Wood Open was one of the rare occasions in the last couple of seasons that multiple Irish amateurs made the trip, which was great to see.
Former pro Leo Fernandez almost made some money but fell at the last hurdle to Michael Wasley in the last 128.
John Sutton is a player who has the potential to do well in PTC events so will be disappointed to have been defeated in his opening match to the unknown Aaron Busuttil of Malta.
However, the Celbridge player has admirably pledged to enter as many of the remaining events as possible and will be in Germany this week for the Paul Hunter Classic alongside Joe Delaney, who also makes the trip.
The last Irishman at the Dome a week ago, but certainly not the least, was Josh Boileau, who just recently turned 18.
Boileau has been the nation’s obvious up-and-coming hopeful over the last couple of years with a speedy rise through the ranks, particularly on the amateur scene.
Yet, like so many, he’s struggling for sponsorship – something pretty much every player needs in order to sustain a living while trying to make the initial breakthrough.
On Facebook and Twitter last week, Boileau wrote “If anyone would be willing to sponsor me for 1 or 2 upcoming ptc’s it would be very much appreciated.”
This is a player who may be destined for greatness if he could only gain a little bit of support to help him in the right direction, support that is increasingly difficult to find.
It’s a tough school.
Morris has fought his way back and looks intent on not only maintaining but building on his position for the foreseeable future.
Doherty and O’Brien will be around for another few years yet but not forever, so it’s now that the effort needs to be put in to ensure that Irish snooker isn’t left with just one, or worse yet nobody, in the top flight.
The success of one or two will have the ripple effect of inspiring other youngsters to pick up a cue and play the game.
But the success of one or two comes at a price, and who is willing to pay it?
John Sutton has recently informed me that he has withdrawn from the Paul Hunter Classic for the reasons given above.