By Fin Ruane
Last weekend the second day of Junior events in the new Irish snooker season took place in four selected venues throughout the country. This may sound somewhat familiar but these events are different. They are part of a total reinvention of the junior set-up in Ireland and I believe a brave and fantastic step forward by our governing body RIBSA to encourage the junior players out there to play the game.
For too long junior players in Ireland have been starved of regular tournament play and, when there was a tournament held, a lack of organisation and interest led to a small number of entries and therefore an almost complete collapse of the junior scene across the country. Yes, Ireland still sent teams to the Home Internationals but the standard was dipping somewhat and things needed to change.
This summer a bold step was taken by RIBSA, no more so than by our chairman Jim Leacy and our internationally esteemed national couch PJ Nolan, to reinvent interest for juniors.
The Q-School and National Junior events remain on the calendar but the addition of nationwide events in September, October and November I believe will be the catalyst in reigniting the interest in the junior game. In tandem with these domestic dates, four venues have been carefully selected to host the events. The Ivy Rooms in Carlow, Douglas Snooker Club in Cork, The Northwest Snooker Club in Letterkenny and my own club CrossGuns in Dublin were chosen as the new regional centres. The idea was to encourage not only the local juniors to play but the juniors who may have become disillusioned with the lack of opportunity over the last number of years to enter and compete once more.
When I was approached during the summer about joining the new junior committee I was absolutely delighted and applauded PJ and Jim for taking these steps. It’s an idea I had mentioned last year when I wrote a piece in the Fables series on this site about the current state of the amateur game in Ireland – that unless the junior game was embraced and changed our days of future Irish snooker stars were few and far between.
Some had thought there just wasn’t the numbers out there but after coaching the junior players earlier this year during the filming of Ken Doherty’s Lucky Break TV Show I was blown away by the talent that was out there. Over 100 players auditioned that day alone in Dublin. They came from all corners of the country but had one thing in common, they all wanted to play snooker.
This summer I qualified for my next level of coaching under RIBSA and launched my own Academy at the club in CrossGuns. Early in the new year I intend to add my world snooker badge and help continue to grow the game here. Helping juniors learn and play the game is something I enjoy and already I have several emerging talents under my wing, no better example than 14 year-old Jason O’Hagan. His hunger to learn the game and improve his already extraordinary ability paves the way for an exciting first season for himself and the other Academy members.
In Ireland, we are also lucky to have great snooker coaches at the junior players’ disposal. Alongside our National coach PJ and myself, there are world snooker coaches Gay Burns, a former world ranked number 3 in the amateur game and twice National Senior champion, and Dan Carroll, who has worked tirelessly to promote the junior game with his Stars Academy.
It all pointed to a make or break in the junior game The set-up was put in play, the coaches were there so now we waited for the first event.
On the first Saturday of September the new idea was put to the test. Dublin and Cork I believed would be the strongest sections and the entries that day proved so. The Dublin entries in the Under-16 and U-21 events were a 100% improvement on last season. Carlow and Donegal’s totals were not as good but I’ve no doubt they will improve as the season goes on.
Not only were the numbers encouraging but the standard of play was exceptional, especially in the Under-16 section. This and the Under-21s I believe will be the toughest this season.
With local talent such as Josh Duffy and Andrei Deaconescu from Terry Rogers, Aaron Holland from Joeys and Andrew Doherty from Terenure, it can only encourage the many other local players in the clubs throughout the country to pick up their cue and follow suit. Other players such as Dylan Carey and Darragh Cusack will shine this season, as will Aaron Tobin from Cork , JJ Monaghan from Navan and Charlie Sweeney from Newbridge. Age is certainly not an issue either as 11 year-old Aaron Goldrick has shown – only last weekend he completed a remarkable double win at the junior events in Carlow.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Ireland was awash with junior talent. Wins in the Nation Junior events followed by appearances in the Junior Home Internationals helped launch the careers of Ken Doherty, Stephen Murphy and Stephen O’Connor, to name but a few.
The season has now begun, we are two weeks into a brave new dawn for junior snooker in Ireland, the governing body has done their part and now it’s up to the juniors out there to join in and be a part of an exciting new era for Ireland’s junior players.