As 2014 draws to a close in the next few days, it’s time to reflect on what has been another entertaining year full of drama both on and off the table.
There have been many stories over the last 12 months worthy of recalling, from title triumphs to near misses, comebacks to setbacks, but a few have stood out a little more than others.
Yesterday, we looked at some of the lower points of the year but today’s outlook is more positive as we take into account the best stories from 2014.
2014 – The Highs
Mark Selby Becomes World Champion
Nobody can deny that Mark Selby deserved to lift the World Championship trophy for the first time last May.
The ‘Jester’ beat then world no.1 Neil Robertson in a titanic semi-final 17-15 before coming from 10-5 down to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final to overcome the defending champion 18-14.
That Selby was able to prevent O’Sullivan from a hat-trick of successive Sheffield titles in a year in which the ‘Rocket’ has won every other event held on British soil is further testament to what a great achievement his was.
With his triumph at the Crucible the 31 year-old temporarily regained the number one spot as the rankings changed to a money-earned list and he also became only the ninth player to complete the career Triple Crown – following his previous victories in the UK Championship and Masters.
Selby’s 2014/15 campaign has been understandably quieter so far as he attempts to deal with the razzmatazz that comes with being a world champion, not to mention becoming a father for the first time in November.
Yet, having now tasted glory on snooker’s biggest stage, it would be hard to bet against him repeating the trick again over the coming few years such is his consistently high level of performance overall.
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Ricky Walden
There have been a lot of classic encounters in 2014, many of them having gone to the wire, but there was one devastating destruction job that will arguably live longer in the memory.
In the Masters last eight way back in January, Ronnie O’Sullivan dismantled the challenge of Ricky Walden in less than an hour, winning 6-0 and accumulating a record 556 unanswered points in the process.
The Chigwell cueist was always going to start the tie as favourite but nobody would have expected such a dominating performance that included runs of 79, 88, 72, 134, 77 and 56.
That said, nobody should be all that surprised either because the man has shown on countless occasions before what he is capable of, and indeed on countless other occasions in 2014 thereafter.
In truth, when the five-time world champion produces that level of quality there is nobody in the world who can live with him.
It’s simply unbeatable, and a joy to behold.
Robertson’s Ton of Tons
In January, the 2013/14 campaign was already halfway through and it was becoming apparent that there was a distinct possibility Neil Robertson could amass 100 centuries in a single season, such was his incredible rate of scoring.
The Australian easily eclipsed the previous record of 61 held by Judd Trump in the first month of the year and then firmly set his sights on reaching the century milestone.
At times, this appeared to be a distraction as some of Robertson’s displays appeared to hinge too heavily on his break-building ambitions.
Yet, after reaching the final of the China Open in April, the 32 year-old began the World Championship in Sheffield with 93 centuries to his credit and his desired number within touching distance.
It didn’t take long for him to get to 99 but twice dramatically faltered on the final ball in his second round clash with Mark Allen.
Thankfully for Robertson, he managed to emerge past the Northern Irishman and was given another best-of-25 encounter to finally accomplish the feat.
It was almost fitting then that his record-breaking moment came against Trump in the quarter-final, the player whose record he beat, and on the biggest centre stage of all, sparking jubilant scenes of celebration.
The achievement may be repeated some day, and possibly even eclipsed, but Robertson will always be the first.
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Judd Trump
While the World Championship final was dramatic in a grueling, most important match of the year, sense, two other finals provided us with even greater quality to add to the theatrics.
Both involved English rivals Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump.
The first came in November’s Champion of Champions finale, a tournament that has in only two years become one of the most enjoyable on the calendar.
Trump’s resurgence following his Australian Open success continued as he saw off top ranked Mark Selby and Neil Robertson to reach the final, where he faced the defending champion.
From the opening frame, where O’Sullivan compiled a 137 century break, the contest was played out in terrifically entertaining fashion with high breaks and fast frames in abundance.
In fact, there were six centuries and a further ten breaks over 50 between them as O’Sullivan’s reign in Coventry continued with a 10-7 victory.
Five weeks later and the pair competed in another showdown, this time at the Barbican Centre in York for the final of the UK Championship.
While the breaks weren’t quite as free-flowing as in their previous clash, the drama and tension was tenfold as Trump fought back from 9-4 down, seemingly on the brink of defeat, to force an unlikely decider.
O’Sullivan, though, held his nerve with a break of 51 to eventually see off his young rival and claim a fifth UK crown.
Nobody would be disappointed to see further duels as the second half of the season commences with the Masters in a couple of weeks in London.
Ding’s High Five
With victory over Robertson in the China Open final in April, Ding Junhui matched Stephen Hendry’s 23 year-old record of five ranking event successes in a single season.
Ding had already won three on the bounce in 2013 when he lifted the Shanghai Masters, Indian Open and International Championship trophies before adding the German Masters and Beijing crowns this year.
The 27 year-old also reached the final of the Welsh Open but was downed comfortably by a ruthless O’Sullivan, who compiled the first of his two 147 maximum breaks this year.
Both Ding and O’Sullivan have demonstrated, though, how a player can indeed dominate in this era despite previous reports to the contrary stating that it couldn’t be done.
Ding’s magnificent effort was tainted slightly when he again failed to produce the goods at the World Championship, exiting in the first round to lowly ranked qualifier Michael Wasley.
Yet, there’s still time for all of that to come good and, with 11 ranking events, Ding is now already sixth on the all-time winners list.
Morris Climbs Rankings
Now into the second season of his two-year card, Ireland’s David Morris is nearing the world’s top 50.
With no points to defend from now until the end of this campaign, the Kilkenny cueist will maybe have his sights on surpassing Ken Doherty as the Irish number two in the money list.
For snooker in Ireland, the importance of this cannot be underestimated.
For far too long now have Doherty and fellow Dubliner Fergal O’Brien been flying the flag for the country on the Main Tour alone.
Stalwarts like Joe Delaney and Michael Judge fell off the circuit a number of years ago and young hopefuls like Vincent Muldoon and David Hogan ultimately failed to replace them.
It had looked as though Morris might have been heading down a similar path when he too was sent back to the amateur doldrums in 2012 but returned via Q-School after a year’s absence rejuvenated.
Earlier this month, Morris, who had been struggling with a bad back during the summer, celebrated his 26th birthday in style by knocking world champion Mark Selby out of the UK Championship en route to a second last 16 appearance in a row at the Barbican.
With 19 year-old Josh Boileau reaching both the finals of the European and World Under-21 Championships in 2014 as well, there’s renewed hope for some long overdue Irish success in the pro ranks in the coming years.