Doherty and O’Brien One Win Away from Crucible

Dubliners Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien moved one step closer to a Crucible place after coming through their penultimate World Championship qualifying rounds in Sheffield.

Doherty beat Stephen Hendry to land the title in 1997 - photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.
Doherty beat Stephen Hendry to land the title in 1997 – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

Snooker legends Steve Davis and Jimmy White are out, though, after contrasting but equally crushing defeats in Ponds Forge International Sports Centre.

1997 world champion Doherty had squeezed past ten-time ladies world champion Reanne Evans in the first round amid considerable media hype.

The Irishman admitted to feeling a world of pressure under the unique spotlight but there was far less attention on him against Welshman Lee Walker, conqueror of David Morris in the previous stage.

Now, the 45 year-old will be desperate to return to the scene of his most famous triumph, with a difficult match against Mark Davis, who overcame young hot prospect Oliver Lines, to come.

O’Brien, meanwhile, came from 4-1 down to pip Chris Wakelin of England in a tight contest 10-8 and will play China Open semi-finalist Kurt Maflin in the final qualifying round.

Doherty and O’Brien have been flying the tricolour Irish flag on the pro circuit with pride for the best part of 25 years now and it is a testament to their love of the game that they continue to fight well at the top.

It’s disappointing that nobody from Ireland has been able to consistently challenge their status as the best in that time but the nation is lucky to have them still competing at a very high level.

However, for Davis and White’s legion of fans it was massive disappointment as the duo made an early exit from the tournament.

White, in particular, will feel especially aggrieved after throwing away a 7-2 and 8-6 advantage in eventually going down 10-8 to a spirited Matthew Selt comeback.

By contrast, the Nugget was never seriously involved in his tie with Maflin, suffering a crushing 10-1 defeat to the Norwegian.

The two losses begs a question as to whether we’ll ever see either or both back on the Crucible stage again.

It’s nine years since the Whirlwind’s last act in the magical theatre and it’s difficult to envisage¬†how he’ll get a better chance to make a return.

The defeat also means that the 52 year-old will drop out of the top 64 in the world rankings, although he will regain his place on the Main Tour via the European Tour Order of Merit.

Elsewhere on a frenetic sixth day in qualifying, twice semi-finalist Joe Swail mounted a trademark fightback from 9-5 down to overcome Dominic Dale in a decider.

The Northern Irishman has been known for his battling qualities all throughout his career and will face another player with plenty of World Championship memories in Matthew Stevens for a place at the Crucible.

Stevens ensured it was a bad day for the Lines family as father Peter joined his son Oliver on the trip back to Leeds following a 10-7 defeat to the two-time runner-up.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s Marcus Campbell might have played his last match on the circuit after losing 10-6 to Mark King.

The 42 year-old from Dumbarton needed at least one more victory to keep alive his chances of staying inside the world’s top 64 but ultimately fell short, paying the price for a dreadful season overall.

The qualifiers continue to be a good competition for the Chinese contingent, with five from the Far East in with a shout of joining top dog ding Junhui at the venue.

Yu Delu made it through to the last stage on Sunday while Xiao Guodong, Li Hang, Liang Wenbo and Zhang Anda joined him yesterday – with the latter two set to do battle on Tuesday and Wednesday.

All in all, there weren’t too many shocks to add to the casualties of Peter Ebdon and Michael White, although Welsh Open finalist Ben Woollaston was dumped out by the ever-impressive Robin Hull.

The Finn requires as many wins as possible to break into the top 64 himself and stay on tour, and one wonders why he didn’t compete more on his initial return to the pro scene during the 2013/14 campaign as he would be in a comfortable position now if he had.

Hull takes on Igor Figueiredo in the last qualifying round and, while it’s good that at least one of them will get through, it’s a shame the other will have to bow out because the championship will lose an international element.

Arguably the biggest story is that Adam Duffy, an amateur who gained an invitation to make up the numbers, could qualify after a 10-7 triumph over Sam Baird, who missed the pink in a 147 attempt in frame 12 and never subsequently recovered.

Standing in Duffy’s way is former quarter-finalist Jamie Jones while Robert Milkins, Michael Holt and Andrew Higginson will also feature in today and tomorrow’s showdown.

The full draw can be viewed by clicking here.

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