The 2014/15 campaign gets under way on Saturday with the Wuxi Classic qualifiers.
Yes, you read that correctly. After only a short few weeks, the action returns almost straight away as the roadshow sets off once more.
Some will argue that there isn’t enough of a break in between seasons.
These critics, without question, are 100% correct in my opinion.
It is fantastic to have so many tournaments on the schedule but there is always the risk of overkill – for players and fans alike.
Anyway, it is what it is and one can only hope that the powers that be strive to make the calendar as compact as possible in the future.
The fact that there is a full month of nothing after the conclusion of the Australian Open in early July would suggest that more can still be done.
At any rate, that’s for the future and this article focuses more on what has just gone past.
The last 12 months provided another wonderful and exciting season in the sport’s ever-expanding history.
As in 2012 and 2013, Fin Ruane and Johnny ‘Sniper’ Williams are on hand to help decipher what were the key moments and who were the impressive performers that deserve special recognition.
As ever, my own personal gratitude goes to these two men who continue to be of great service to the site.
Plenty of others have contributed significantly throughout the year also, including John Sutton, Philip Browne, Josh Boileau and Colin Bell.
And of course, a special mention to you, the readers, who continue to visit and help SnookerHQ grow.
2014 is already proving to be a record-breaking year for the website so your continued support is always appreciated.
As ever, I’ll continue to provide the best possible coverage of the sport in the year ahead.
For now, though, let’s look back at the 2013/14 campaign.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Fin: A tricky one here. Do I give it to Ding with his five wins or Ronnie with his wins? I’ll go for Ronnie simply because of the manner of his victories and the level of snooker he played. His performance against Ricky Walden in the Masters alone was quite simply superb. Of course his final frame 147 against Ding in the Welsh was equally majestic as was his performance against Joe Perry from 11 – 11 in their second round match at the Crucible. He may have fallen at the last hurdle at Sheffield and lost his world crown but for me Ronnie is player of the year and still the player everyone has to beat.
Sniper: DING. Five ranking event wins in this day and age is nothing short of amazing. I feel sorry for him as he can never produce at the Worlds, though.
SHQ: There are a few players that are potentially deserving of this accolade. However, despite his weak performances in the majors, for me it has to be China’s Ding Junhui. To reach six ranking event finals, winning five of them, with three coming in a row at the outset of the campaign, is an achievement that may not be replicated for a long time. Indeed, it had been more than two decades since Stephen Hendry demonstrated such signs of dominance. Some people argued that his early exit at the Crucible ensured his campaign was a disappointment. What utter rubbish. Ding dominated in an era where many said it was impossible to do so. Yes, Ronnie O’Sullivan missed several of the events where he emerged with the trophy but you can only beat who is put in front of you. And for the most part, Ding did.
BREAKTHROUGH PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Fin: Again there are several players here who have impressed me but this year I’m going for our own Davy Morris. Davy is a player who lost his tour card, picked himself up to win his card back through the rigours of Q-School and has enjoyed his best season so far on the tour with a quarter-final in the Wuxi Classic and a last 16 in the UK Championship. He is now ranked 71 and is well placed for an assault on the top 64 in the new season.
Sniper: Xiao Gudong. He has been around for a few years but I think he is coming of age. He’s now up to 23 in the world rankings and I love his style of play.
SHQ: Tough one here as there are a few players deserving of a mention with Xiao Guodong and Aditya Mehta both reaching their maiden ranking event finals. Yet, two players who impressed while making their returns to the professional scene after originally dropping off the tour were Ireland’s David Morris and Gary Wilson of England. The latter’s consistency throughout the campaign ensured that he finished just ahead of Morris in the world rankings at 68. With zero points to defend, both are well placed to launch and attack well into the top 64 during the next campaign. The deciding factor between the pair for me was Morris‘ standout performances in the Wuxi Classic and UK Championship, where he reached the quarter-final and the last 16 respectively. The 25 year-old will be hoping to build on those displays in the next 12 months.
CONTROVERSy of the Season
Fin: Thankfully nothing much to talk about this past season apart from a few rumblings from players about the new tour structure. Judd Trump’s remarks that the UK Championship set-up was like a circus were quickly dismissed by the powers that be. Stephen Lee’s continued battle against his 12-year ban and fine has popped up a few times with several statements from World Snooker keeping the public updated on what it seems has now become a fruitless task on Lee’s behalf to protest his innocence.
Sniper: There wasn’t really much to choose from this season but Stephen Lee obviously continues to be in the headlines about the appeal for his 12-year ban.
SHQ: Not a whole pile of controversy this season aside from the ongoing Stephen Lee scandal that saw him banned for 12 years from the sport. One issue that has been in the public eye of late is the situation surrounding Iran’s Hossein Vafaei Ayouri. Already a former IBSF world champion, Vafaei added the World Under-21 title last week. In both cases and under normal circumstances this should have granted him access onto the Main Tour. Yet, problems gaining a United Kingdom visa have led to his progress in the sport stagnating. This is a huge shame given the obvious talent he possesses.
MATCH OF THE SEASON
Fin: Plenty to choose from but again for me there was ultimately one match and that was this year’s World semi between Neil Robertson and Mark Selby. Quite simply an absorbing battle between two players almost at the peak of their game. This match had everything from high breaks, safety battles and match play of the highest possible standard. A riveting finish on the Saturday night, and drama at its finest held at the theatre of snooker.
Sniper: Ronnie v Selby at the World Championship. This match had it all. The ‘Rocket’ starting off like a steam train, Selby looking dead and buried only for his never say never attitude to ignite at the right time and drag Ronnie down into a dog fight. It was amazing to watch and Selby was a fully deserved winner.
SHQ: A difficult category because there is an abundance of matches to choose from. In a long season many of these encounters get lost amid the prospect and importance of an upcoming event. Therefore, my pick is from the recent World Championship and the semi-final clash between Mark Selby and Neil Robertson. These two conjured up a thrilling contest that had everything from big breaks to dogged tactical awareness. The drama that unfolded was certainly fitting of the occasion.
Fin: The German Masters has always had my vote but this year for me it has been eclipsed and there can be only one. The World Championship this year for me really seemed a proper World Championship. A new sponsor with the highest ever prize fund added to the prestige of the event. It has always been snooker’s blue riband event but this year it seemed to have that something extra special. Ronnie going for his third world title to equal Davis and Reardon on six, Robertson chasing his 100th century and several new and exciting faces all added up to a magical tournament. I was fortunate enough to attend the final on Sunday and Monday and the atmosphere was in my opinion the best ever at the famous old venue. Barry Hearn’s reassurances that it will remain at the Crucible as long as the BBC provide their coverage will be of huge relief to every snooker fan out there.
Sniper: I’ll never change my mind about this answer. I have not been following the snooker scene as much as I’d want this year but, despite the fact I was working three jobs, I never missed one frame of the World Championship. Whether I watched it live or on the BBC highlights it still mesmerizes me to this day, as I still love the sport. Every aspect from the commentary, Hazel, the music, the M.C to the referees and even the audience fascinates me. I LOVE IT ALL. And cant wait to get back on the baize myself next season.
SHQ: A lot of people seem to have been bowled over by the World Championship. It certainly was entertaining, probably among the best of the last handful of years, but for large chunks of it the quality of the snooker left a lot to be desired. This was frequently masked by the manner in which a lot of the early encounters went to the deciding frame.
Because of this, the inaugural Champion of Champions is my tournament of the season. This was a fun event that featured (mostly) the champions of various other competitions in the year leading up to it. A fresh format was introduced and the inclusion of only the sport’s most elite band of performers guaranteed a degree of exclusivity. There were plenty of close ties and, in the end, a deserving champion in Ronnie O’Sullivan. Definitely an event that should only gain in prestige as the years go by.
MOMENT OF THE SEASON (Pro Scene)
Fin: Only one for me and that is Neil Robertson compiling his historic 100th century at the Crucible. To make 100 centuries in a pro career is a great achievement for some but to make 100 in a single season is quite simply remarkable. Yes there are many more tournaments to play in but some of these events such as the PTCs have only best-of-seven frame matches so it makes Robertson’s achievement all the more astonishing. It seemed throughout the tournament when he lay on 99 centuries that it was becoming a monkey on his back, even more so when he missed a routine black of the spot to make the ton of tons. Would he ever do it? When it eventually did happen against Judd Trump the break itself was absolutely fantastic and the elation Robertson showed was more of relief I think than satisfaction. He also did it in front of a full Crucible crowd as the famous divide had earlier been raised due to a match on the other table already finishing. A historic snooker achievement fittingly done at a historic snooker venue.
Sniper: Selby potting that last black to win his first World Snooker Championship. Nothing else to be said here really.
SHQ: A lot of great moments of course but, really, Neil Robertson’s completion of the ton of tons will go surely be footage that will be aired again and again in years to come. A very special achievement that may prove difficult to equal.
MOMENT OF THE SEASON (Amateur SCENE)
Fin: Having watched mainly junior snooker in Ireland this season, several particular moments stand out to me. Personally, coaching Jason O’Hagan to his first U-16 Q-School win in October was of huge satisfaction as was his qualifying at the first time of asking for the national U-16 junior team for the forthcoming Home Internationals. Another player out of my Academy JJ Monaghan also qualified to represent his country at the first time of asking. JJ will represent his country on the U-14 team at the forthcoming Celtic Challenge in Wales in June.
Regarding the senior game, one moment sticks out to me and not just because I witnessed it but simply because it was snooker genius. The occasion was the semi match in this year’s Fin Ruane Snr. Memorial tournament between Rodney Goggins and Martin McCrudden. Rodney was 2-0 ahead in the best of five encounter and was absolutely battering Martin with break building and safety. Rodney was on a break of 58 in the third frame and only required a couple more reds to secure a 3-0 win. He attempted a tricky cut red into the centre pocket, the red hit the knuckle for Rodney’s first missed pot of the match. Martin duly came to the table and compiled a frame-winning break of 69 from absolutely nothing. He then went on to win the match 3-2 and eventually the tournament. A superb break from a top class snooker player.
Sniper: Josh Boileau getting to his first World Under-21 final. This kid has been knocking on the pro door for about two years now and his time is only around the corner. Two major amateur finals in a couple of months is an amazing achievement and he has so much to offer the game of snooker. Not to mention he is a very grounded humble person at the same time.
Coming in at a close second would be John Sutton. Once again a player coming of age during this year’s qualifying school. A lot of players complain about tables and conditions but when this man is on proper star tables, with the proper condition and he knows he has to raise his game, he is quite the formidable opponent. I can only hope all the beating I gave him on the 2008 World Championship final table we have here in Maynooth has helped his development.
SHQ: The inclusion of amateur players in the satellite European and Asian Tour events has always been a positive thing. It gives younger players especially the opportunity to hone their skills against the elite of the sport. There are plenty of amateur players who have tested the professionals in these tournaments but few expected anybody to actually emerged with the trophy in any of the them. The fact that China’s Ju Reti, a relative unknown in the grander scheme of things, surged to the final of the second Asian Tour event of the campaign and beat Michael Holt for the title served to highlight the strength in-depth in the game.
BEST IRISH AMATEUr
Fin: This is a simple one really. Josh Boileau is hands down the best amateur in Ireland at the moment. Runner-up in the European and World Under-21 events in the last couple of months have secured his status as not only one of the best amateurs in the world but as the best in Ireland. He hasn’t stamped his authority on Ireland’s senior game yet but I feel it’s just a matter of time before that happens. He has qualified for the National Championships last 16 this coming weekend and even though he has a tough draw playing Robbie Murphy I fully expect him to continue his fantastic form of recent months.
Sniper: It can be none other than Robert Murphy. It’s very easy of course to pick the Irish number one from the rankings although I have not been playing for half of this season. However, seeing some of his results, the top players he has beaten and his level of consistency, Murphy has once again shown what an amazing player this guy is and a legend in the Irish Amateur circuit.
SHQ: Despite not enjoying his best season on a domestic front, reaching the finals of both the European and World Under-21 Championships is a terrific achievement and leads to Josh Boileau being Ireland’s best and most promising amateur, hands down.
PLAYER TO LOOK OUT FOR NEXT SEASON
Fin: Obviously Josh Boileau will be on the radar as will Hossain Vafaei who defeated Josh in the World U-21 final in Dubai. Visa issues have hampered Vafaei’s attempts to join the pro ranks but now as World U-21 champion he surely must have a case for the authorities in the UK to reconsider their decisions not to grant him his visa. Hossain has been living in Ireland for some time now and has quietly gone about his business regularly playing the top players including Ken Doherty to improve his already fantastic snooker game.
In the pro ranks keep an eye out for China’s Yu Delu. I was very impressed with his game in his win over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the PTC Grand Finals. Currently ranked 52nd after his third season as a pro I expect him to continue his form into the new season.
Sniper: I’m going to get a lot of stick for this and, despite our little grievance of late, there are two players in the Irish amateur circuit to look out for next season. Player number one is Cork’s David Cassidy. He has always been a very good junior player but never seemed to do much when it came to the senior rankings. It was as if he didn’t have the belief he could beat a lot of the top players. After his recent runs in both the Europeans and Worlds he has shown he is coming of age and turning into a very fine player. I believe now that he has played on many of the big stages and his basic maturity as a player has improved, he will be a very tough opponent for any player to beat next season. He is showing no fear. Especially challenging me to a money match in October.
The next player is, with reservations, myself. I have taken this season off to finish my teaching degree and try to get some stability in my life. I think the reasons I havent reached my true potential on the Irish amateur scene was the fact that I had always so much going on and I could never focus on just snooker itself. I think now that I have completed six years in college a huge weight will be lifted off my shoulders and I will be able to just enjoy the game and not expect too much of myself. Like I said before, I have been working three different jobs this year as well as going to college full-time. I’ve never experienced pressure like it and I was not going to embarrass myself by going to Irish snooker events and not even get past the first round after such a long journey. It made sense to just concentrate on college this year and come back stronger next year. That’s the plan anyway. I have never reached an All-Ireland final after about ten chances in semi-finals so next season this is my main goal.
SHQ: Last year I picked David Morris here and that proved out to be a wise enough choice. I could easily go for Morris again because it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him make another step up in standard. However, I will go for somebody else and it’s another graduate from Q-School, just as Morris had been last year. Craig Steadman didn’t quite come to grips with the Main Tour in his latest stint and wasn’t able to stay inside the top 64 so duly dropped off. But a dominant display in Q-School has earned him his place right back on and I think the Englishman will be better equipped this time around to compete on a better scale.