It was recently announced that Fin Ruane would take up the role as Public Relations Officer with the Republic of Ireland Billiards and Snooker Association.
Having spent a significant amount of time with Fin over the last number of years, coupled with his excellent Fables series on SnookerHQ, I can vouch for the man’s passion for the game and was therefore delighted when he informed me of his new role.
RIBSA has been crying out for years for people like Fin to help reinvigorate the sport in Ireland and the team that is being assembled appears to be sending the organisation into the 21st century.
That said, there is a lot of work to be done to turn around a governing body that continues to garner a lot of critics.
I caught up with Fin to find out more about his history in snooker and his ambitions for the future as he takes up his new position as RIBSA PRO.
SHQ: Tell us about how you got into snooker.
Fin: My first memory of being around snooker was at the World Amateur Championship in Dublin in 1974. I was five years of age and my dad, who was chairman of RIBSA at the time, brought me to a match. To say I was captivated by the game is an understatement and 40 years later the sport still fascinates me.
SHQ: Your father was an influential figure in RIBSA for many years. Tell us more about him.
Fin: As I mentioned, my father was first Chairman and then Secretary for RIBSA before he became President. He was part of the RIBSA council that organised and hosted two World Amateur Championships in Dublin. He was a well-known figure in snooker circles both at home and abroad and was very popular amongst the generation of players at the time. He sadly passed away in 1992 but left a legacy that many in the game still mention these days. His Memorial Cup tournament which was first held two years ago on the 21st anniversary of his passing has become one of the most popular events on the snooker calendar.
SHQ: Back to you, who were your favourite players growing up?
Fin: Growing up there was really only one player for me and that was the ‘Whirlwind’ Jimmy White – I idolised him. I remember being starstruck the first time I met him but over the years we’ve become good friends and we always have a laugh when we meet up.
SHQ: What did you achieve in the game yourself?
Fin: Like many junior players growing up I dreamt of becoming world champion. The top juniors I competed with at the time were Ken Doherty, Stephen Murphy, Tony Corrigan and Anthony O’Connor. I was honoured to be selected for the first ever junior international team and lucky to be selected a few years later for the senior team. I never won any ranking tournaments with my best result being three semi-final appearances. I played in a World Junior Championship but, although I loved playing, it soon dawned on me that those young aspirations I had of becoming a top player had since gone. But as long as I was still involved in the game, either playing or watching, I was more than happy. I never regretted not trying harder as I was lucky to meet some great people who to this day are my closest friends.
SHQ: You own your father’s old club now in CrossGuns. Was that always in the plan?
Fin: I suppose at some time it was going to be up to me whether to take on the mantle and I hadn’t planned on it until much later. I was living in London and doing well but once my father became ill the decision was really made for me there and then. The club was his pride and joy from the day he started working in there with my grandfather, who had originally opened it, so to be third generation owner next to these two greats is an honour for me. I haven’t changed the ethos of the way they ran CrossGuns and apart from a few changes CrossGuns hasn’t really changed much since it opened in 1958 .The club has always played a big role in my life and will continue to do so.
SHQ: You took a backseat for a number of years with regard the Irish scene. Was there any reason for this?
Fin: Well, to be honest, I was a busy family man with two young children and concentrating on running CrossGuns. In between time spent at home and in the club I was still travelling to the odd tournament with Ken. I realised, though, that by having a snooker business in Ireland I really needed to keep abreast of what was happening both locally and nationwide so regular visits to the RIBSA website kept me up to date with snooker in the country.
SHQ: Your interest and input has peaked in the last couple of years. Why did you make this decision?
Fin: To be honest it all really started when my wife Marina suggested I become a coach. I had several juniors in the club that I was helping and I found it very rewarding seeing their game improve. I took the next step to contact RIBSA’s national coach PJ Nolan and enrolled in a coaching course. I’ve since completed my level one course and set up my own coaching academy in the club. I’ve been lucky to be able to call on PJ from time to time and last May at the World Championship I was fortunate enough to meet up with several other World Snooker coaches and pick up several other tips to improve my coaching skills.
SHQ: The junior game is close to your heart. What level of importance should RIBSA be putting on developing young amateurs in Ireland?
Fin: I’ve always felt that the junior players in Ireland should get as much encouragement and support as our senior players. As a past junior player I was afforded the luxury of free practice and sponsorship to snooker events throughout Ireland. Alongside that I could practice any time with some top players, both junior and senior. For several years now junior players have struggled to travel to events and the cost has become a burden on their parents.
RIBSA, to their credit, made a great move last summer by announcing several junior venues across the country which hosted new junior nationwide events. I was delighted when CrossGuns was selected as a venue alongside the magnificent Ivy Rooms in Carlow, the Northwest Snooker Club in Donegal and Youghal CYMS – traditionally a hotbed of snooker in Munster.
The response from the juniors was fantastic and last season’s numbers were a huge improvement on previous years. Top junior players, like our current Under-16 champion Charlie Sweeney, excelled in the new format and many new players joined the circuit as the venues that were chosen ensured it was easier for the parents to accompany their kids.
Personally, I feel the future of snooker in Ireland is in great shape and with top talents such as Jason O’Hagan, Fergal Quinn, Darragh Cusack, Aaron Goldreck and JJ Monaghan, to name but a few, I’m certain the senior game will reap the rewards in future years. In PJ Nolan, the juniors also have one of the world’s best snooker coaches at their disposal.
A testament and reward for RIBSA’s hard work was this summer’s magnificent win by the Irish Juniors over Wales in the Terry Griffiths Club in Llanelli to claim The Celtic Challenge Cup. Similarly, in Josh Boileau we currently have one of the best U-21 players in the world owing to his recent runner-up spots in the World and European U-21 Championships. It’s no surprise to see that Irish snooker has a brighter future.
SHQ: You’ve been appointed the new Press Relations Officer. What do you hope to achieve in the position?
Fin: My first aim as PRO is to get the name of RIBSA out there in the public domain. We need to increase awareness that there actually is a national governing body who oversees the structure and management of the game in Ireland.
Times have changed since the heady days of the snooker boom in Ireland during the mid-eighties to the early nineties. Many clubs have closed but plenty have survived. As a club owner myself I have always believed that the clubs are the heartbeat and grassroots of the Irish game. If Irish snooker is to grow we must be encouraging the next Ken Doherty, Fergal O’Brien or Davy Morris out there to play the sport.
During the 1990s Ireland had back-to-back amateur world champions in Ken and Stephen O’Connor and Irish snooker enjoyed the many plaudits that came with those wins. Now is the time to push our players and encourage them to achieve that same feat.
As the Public Relations Officer I intend to make our association more approachable for prospective investors and sponsors. Currently, the association has literally no correspondence with the national and local press or radio. Exposure is limited which, in turn, has effected the amount of sponsors RIBSA can attract. Apart from an annual grant from the government and tournament entry fees, income is limited.
In this age of social media I intend to make our association more mainstream and reachable by online participation and to rebrand the RIBSA name. I fully intend that by the end of this season we will have several new sponsors on board and an association that our members can be proud of.
SHQ: You’ve outlined what needs to be done. What qualities do you feel you possess to achieve your goal?
Fin: I believe that my experience as a player, businessman and supporter in the game will help me with the position. I have many friends and associates spread throughout the world of snooker, both amateur and professional, that I can call on from time to time should the need arise. Some are players while others are involved in the media, which subsequently will help me promote our sport both domestically and internationally. However, most importantly is that people can identify with me and put a face and name to the public relations side of RIBSA.
SHQ: The importance of attracting new sponsors is undeniable. How do you plan to get businesses on board?
Fin: It’s hard to attract sponsors to any business, let alone a sports based business such as RIBSA is. Sponsors these days need to see some reward for their expenditure and it’s something RIBSA has been unable to do until now. On council now we have a very active fund-raising committee which was set up shortly after this summer’s AGM. My colleagues on council have spent countless hours working on fundraising ideas and some of the plans drawn up really excite me. It’s really a case of “watch this space” but over the next few months our members will see a turnaround in RIBSA sponsorships.
SHQ: You also highlighted the significance of local clubs. What is the current state of the club culture in Ireland?
Fin: Obviously, snooker is not as popular as it once was in Ireland. I can remember at one time over 50 snooker clubs in the greater Dublin area alone. This was during the great snooker boom that started in the mid-eighties – at the time of the famous black ball final between Davis and Taylor – but like all booms there comes a bust.
Clubs did close but for every three or four that disappeared one survived. It wasn’t just in Ireland, the UK too suffered greatly and still does. Last week the great Riley chain of clubs closed many of their clubs across the UK.
Several clubs throughout Ireland have championship conditions and use the popular Shendar tables but in my eye the conditions at the Ivy Rooms in Carlow are about the best you can get. It’s the standard-bearer for Irish clubs and the venue for the majority of RIBSA events. I’m not for a minute running my own club down. It’s just that CrossGuns is a different type of club, more intimate and more of a social club.
Club owners, including our chairman John Doherty at his superb North West club in Letterkenny, will be the first to tell you of the huge expense needed to run a club. I do feel, though, that snooker is turning a corner in Ireland. It may not reach the heady days of 20 years ago but it’s heading in the right direction.
SHQ: What would you say to a young boy or girl who would be interested in taking up the game? What will make it worthwhile?
Fin: Firstly, find your nearest club. Visit the RIBSA website and view the registered clubs list. This will help you find the club nearest to you and then introduce yourself to the owner or manager. Most clubs have registered RIBSA coaches so you can book a lesson and learn the basics. RIBSA coaches are there to help and encourage you.
If your club hosts tournaments enter them and play with other players. It’s never too young or old to take up the game. The possibilities are endless. Ireland’s greatest ever snooker player Ken Doherty started off the exact same way in 1981 and just 16 years later he was raising the World Championship trophy in Sheffield.
That was Ken’s dream when he watched Alex Higgins win it in 1982 and it could be the same for any young fan out there right now.
Follow Fin on Twitter @Fin_Ruane / @RIBSASNOOKER and visit the CrossGuns website here.