By Fin Ruane
Last January I wrote a piece entitled “The Future Of Amateur Snooker In Ireland” highlighting the alarming state and decline of amateur snooker in the country.
In it I wrote how amateur snooker was suffering not only to loss of interest amongst players but in the way the governing body ran the game. Some saw my piece as a personal attack on RIBSA, indeed nothing could have been further from the truth. It was merely a view I had and of several ideas that may or indeed might help reignite the waning interest in the sport. Fast forward almost twelve months later and the game is almost unrecognisable on these shores.
Gone are the comical formats such as a blind draw where you would not know who your opponent was until you actually showed up at the match table to double elimination tournaments where you had a second bite at the cherry to win the event. These have been replaced by an exciting new Premier Tour where 40 of the country’s top players will battle it out in the events throughout the season.
More importantly, however, is the increased prize money on offer and equally essential is that the prize money is guaranteed due to the prepay strategy employed by RIBSA. This prepay idea not only guarantees the prize money for each event but it also encourages less walkovers and in my opinion has increased the standard in the snooker on show.
With only three events played so far this season we’ve had three different winners and with Rodney Goggins, Martin McCrudden and Robbie Murphy playing superb snooker to each win an event the standard seems to improve in each tournament.
Last month David Hogan reached the quarter-final stage of the IBSF World Amateur Championships in Latvia, defeating countryman Michael Judge in the last 16. Having two players in the latter stages of a World Amateurs I felt last year was beyond our reach but I strongly believe the new Premier Tour format in Ireland has brought out the best in the top players so far this season. Hopefully that will continue to show in the European Championship next May in Ukraine.
The Masters Tour has also enjoyed a fantastic season so far with Nigel Power claiming two events and Mark Tuite and former national champion Tom Gleeson winning a tournament apiece.
Again such is the high standard now being played in the Masters it no doubt helped Tuite and Stephen Merrigan both qualify out of their respective groups in the recent championship in Latvia with Tuite matching Hogan’s run to the quarter-final stage.
The Intermediate Tour has also enjoyed decent progress but in my opinion the section that has enjoyed the greatest success this season has been the Junior Tour.
A bold move by RIBSA during the summer to develop the junior game involved selecting four nationwide sections and four selected clubs were sanctioned. Each club would host six events, three at U14 & U16 level and three at U19 & U21. The idea was to encourage junior players to enter the tournaments and by having the four sections in Dublin, Cork, Letterkenny and Carlow it was hoped more local talent would take up the challenge.
It was an idea that excited me as personally I felt very strongly about developing junior snooker in Ireland and I was delighted when RIBSA invited me to host the tournaments at my club CrossGuns.
The move was a huge success and already we have several new junior stars on the circuit. Players such as Aaron Goldreck, Aaron Holland, JJ Monaghan have emerged on the scene and, along with my CrossGuns Academy player Jason O’Hagan, the future of junior snooker in Ireland looks very promising. Aaron Tobin, Andrew Doherty, Darragh Cusack and Charlie Sweeney are all also producing, ensuring that the U21 big boys Dan Dempsey and Josh Boileau will have to watch their backs.
By no means is amateur snooker in Ireland fixed and cured of all its problems, Many will disagree with me and RIBSA and feel there is much more that can be done but the fact is that there is now a healthy calendar with a Premier, Masters, Intermediate, Junior and Ladies tour. On top of that there is the addition of seven National Handicap events spread throughout the season to keep the players playing and the opportunity to play more match snooker.
It’s by no means easy to run a snooker event let alone organise a season’s calendar but every credit must go to RIBSA and the excellent job they have done this season. The various club owners throughout the country also deserve credit for keeping the game alive, the Ivy Rooms in particular is a huge asset and credit to Irish snooker. Recently revamped with new tables and seating for the World 6-Red Championship it is a top class venue and after recently visiting it I am of the opinion it is now the standard-bearer for snooker venues throughout the world.
In Chairman Jim Lacey we have a man who works tirelessly for the game both home and abroad in both his RIBSA position and as president of the IBSF.
Our National Coach PJ Nolan again is a huge credit to our game, the amount of work PJ puts into the game in front and behind the scenes is immense. Personally I’ve learned so much from him, he has helped me develop as a coach and I always look forward to working with him.
With Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien gallantly holding onto their top 40 status and Davy Morris climbing through the rankings in his first season back on the pro tour I firmly believe Irish snooker is on the up again.
A year is a long time in snooker but with the recovery we’ve seen on these shores it’s been worth the wait.
Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year Everyone