As we prepare for a new season that amazingly starts in a mere few days, there’s still just about enough time to reflect on the 2014/15 campaign.
Returning to help me decide the best players and moments throughout what was a busy 12-month period are Fin Ruane and Jonathon ‘Sniper’ Williams.
Many thanks to them as always for their contributions, as well as to all the other people who have graciously given their time to write for the website over the last year.
Of course, though, the most important appreciation must be given to you, the reader.
The website had a makeover last summer and since then there has been a dramatic rise in the amount of traffic coming SnookerHQ’s way.
A heartfelt thanks then to all the readers and I hope that we can continue to provide coverage to your liking during the next campaign.
But for now, let’s reflect.
Player of the Season
Fin: Without question it’s Stuart Bingham. The player, who undoubtedly has benefited from the Barry Hearn era, began the season slowly before capturing the Shanghai Masters for his second major ranking event. Semi-finals at the UK Championship, World Grand Prix and Players Championship saw Bingham head to Sheffield in decent enough form. What was to transpire over the next 17 days for Bingham was a culmination of 20 years of graft, determination and downright will to win. His performances in his wins over O’Sullivan, Trump and Murphy earned him many new fans and further respect from his peers. All in all a super bloke off the table who has more than paid his dues to the game and deserves every accolade he receives.
Sniper: Very easy pick for me this, and I know it has gone to the world champ the last few times, but this time it is thoroughly deserved. My player of the season has to be Stuart Bingham. Despite having an above average season before Sheffield, I think the true grit, class and determination Stuart showed in this year’s Worlds was second to none. I follow him on Twitter and he was getting abusive mail after abusive mail. I was sure that he would let someone get to him or have it affect his concentration, but the man showed pure nerves of steel in every match, and to beat some of the players he did along the way just compliments his brilliance in the final. He never really looked under pressure, never let the occasion get to him. He just played his game and won in style. The fact that he was once told he had no bottle and that he has been a pro for 20-odd years just makes me so happy for him and gives us all hope! He showed a lot of emotion after his matches too, an incredible story and a great player.
SHQ: A lot of people think that Stuart Bingham’s World Championship victory was the only highlight of his personal season. Ballrun also emerged victorious in the Shanghai Masters and Championship League. In a season where the likes of Judd Trump, Shaun Murphy, Ronnie O’Sullivan and others dominated in spells, triumphing at the Crucible was always going to be the deciding factor here. Stuart Bingham.
Breakthrough Player of the Season
Fin: For me the breakthrough player of the season is Anthony McGill. His previous best performance in a ranking event was a quarter-final place in last season’s Indian Open. However, this season he made his big breakthrough by reaching the UK quarter-finals before losing 6-4 to eventual winner Ronnie O’Sullivan. At Sheffield en route to reaching the last eight he defeated reigning champion Mark Selby 13-9 in the second round. Finishing the season ranked 24 McGill gets my nod.
Sniper: Very simple. My vote goes to Michael White for his recent wins. He has been around a few years now and was always tipped for success as a young player. I’m glad now his true potential is showing through and he seems like a genuine lad. I would have liked to see him have a better run at the Worlds, though.
SHQ: For his performances in the two majors Anthony McGill is a worthy mention, as is Gary Wilson who reached his maiden ranking event final at the China Open. But in eight short days in March, Welshman Michael White bagged a brace of titles in the frenetic Shoot-Out and subsequently the ranking event Indian Open. Finishing the campaign just outside the top 16 in the world rankings, we can expect to see a lot more of White next season.
Controversy of the Season
Fin: It’s been pretty quite on the controversy side of things throughout the season until the World Championship came around and who else to provide us with it but Ronnie O’Sullivan. During his quarter-final defeat to Stuart Bingham, O’Sullivan, whilst at the table, placed his chalk beside a ball in order to judge whether a colour would respot. The referee at the time never called him up on it but a quick reference to the rule book by several of the television commentators and resident press soon discovered that O’Sullivan should have had a foul called against him and Bingham duly awarded seven points. “Chalkgate” headlines soon disappeared when Bingham went on to defeat the five-time champion.
Sniper: Okay well since my good pal John Sutton hasn’t won a title in a while I’m gonna let him have this one. The reports are there to be seen, but I love the lad, always maintained his innocence and I will be sticking by him in support. We have travelled together to a lot of events and I’ve a lot of time for John. He is a real family man and I just feel very sorry for the situation that has come about.
SHQ: It’s never good to have match-fixing headlines but over the past handful of years there has seemed to be always one story that has dominated. The John Sutton saga took a step towards its conclusion this week when the Irishman, barring an appeal, was handed a six-year suspension from the sport.
Match of the Season
Fin: Several matches, including the UK final, provided great excitement throughout the season but for me the final of this year’s World Championship between Shaun Murphy and Stuart Bingham was streets ahead. The standard of play between both players was exceptional and will long live in snooker fans’ memories.
Sniper: I am not fully entitled to comment on this because I didn’t watch as much snooker this year as I would have liked due to the time difference in China. But for me the best matches always come at the Worlds. For pure intensity and nerves along with sheer quality and brilliance, I thought the semi-final between Judd Trump and Stuart Bingham was great to watch. The final was also fantastic but I just love an old match that goes right down to the wire. Actually now that I’m writing this I’m thinking more about the final as there were so many turning points in that also. Agh I can’t decide, I’m gonna pick them both!
SHQ: I’m going to go a little bit against the grain here and away from the World Championship, which had a couple of absolute humdingers at its conclusion. One encounter that really stood out to me elsewhere, though, was the International Championship semi-final between Mark Allen and Mark Williams. This was a tie played at a frenetic pace with the pair sharing 14 half-centuries, including four tons between them. It was nip and tuck the whole way through, even in the deciding frame when Williams had a chance to clinch it only to wobble the last red along the top rail. Mark Allen duly dished for a remarkable 9-8 victory with both admitting afterward that it was one of the best matches either had been involved in.
Fin: Once again for me it has to be the German Masters. It’s a firm favourite on the calendar for players, officials and fans alike, and having attended the tournament at the magnificent Tempodrom in Berlin a couple of seasons ago it still remains one of my favourite snooker venues I have visited. For this, coupled with the sell-out crowds for each session, it’s not hard to see how this event has gone from strength to strength.
Sniper: The World Championship always has and always will be. I love everything about it. From the commentary to the venue, to the crowd, to the walk on music, to Hazel, to the cheesy segments between mid-session intervals, to Ken’s clothes. Everything! I get goosebumps watching some matches and if I’m ever in bad form and I sit down with a cup of tea and watch the Worlds with my father, I cant help but feel better instantly.
SHQ: Tough one this. The World Championship had a fantastic conclusion but the middle of the tournament was a bit mundane. The German Masters again provided wonderful crowds and an amazing quarter-final session that saw all four matches go the distance, including a 147 from Judd Trump. But the 2014 UK Championship, although with some detractors with regard the set-up, really had a bit of everything throughout in terms of the snooker on display. Ronnie hit his 13th max and there were plenty of close encounters, none more so than in the final when Trump almost completed the unlikeliest of comebacks from 9-4 down to deny the Rocket, before ultimately falling just shy in the decider.
Best Moment (Pro Scene)
Fin: As a snooker buff and somewhat snooker historian it’s a simple one for me. Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record-breaking 776th century break at the Masters in January. Watching it live on television and with the great Stephen Hendry commentating as O’Sullivan went about his business, eventually surpassing Hendry’s record, is without doubt the best moment for me.
I must give a runner-up mention to the Gentleman Joe Perry, who provided another great moment this season when winning his maiden major ranking title at the Players Championship. You would be hard pressed to find someone who would begrudge Joe his win over Mark Williams last March in Bangkok.
Sniper: Stuart winning his first world title. No contest, let’s move on.
SHQ: Stuart Bingham gave us a lot of moments to remember in his wonderful World Championship run. His emotion and genuine love for the game shone through and endeared him to many, particularly in the immediate aftermath of his victories over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals and Judd Trump in the last four.
Best Moment (Amateur Scene)
Fin: Another easy one here and it’s Irishmen Michael Judge and Robbie Murphy‘s victory in Malta at the European Team Championships over a highly fancied Maltese pairing of Tony Drago and Brian Cini.
Sniper: Robert Murphy and Mick Judge winning the European Men’s Team event in style, closely followed by Brendan O’Donoghue winning the Irish Championship with his newborn and father by his side. Also loved everyone’s victory speeches.
SHQ: As above. Michael Judge and Robert Murphy‘s success in Malta.
Irish Amateur of the Season
Fin: Again, this is pretty straightforward and it’s the newly crowned national champion Brendan O’Donoghue for me. A fantastic season topped off with his triumph over Robbie Murphy in last week’s Senior Final. A gentleman on and off the table, Brendan will head to South Africa this winter to represent Ireland at the 2015 World Amateur Championship.
Sniper: Tricky one this but it should almost always go to the man at the top of the senior rankings. Rodney Goggins is just a powerhouse of Irish amateur snooker. He is so dedicated to the game and rarely throws in a bad performance, loves snooker and his results compliment both of these attributes for the game. Add to that the fact he is a pure gentleman also. He gets my vote. I really hope he doesn’t retire until after I get my first match win over him.
SHQ: Extremely tight call here. Rodney Goggins reached the final in six out of the seven ranking events, winning three, but then suffered a surprise early exit in the season-ending Championship. Brendan O’Donoghue reached four finals, winning two, before finishing the campaign as the national champion. Their head-to-head in the three finals they played against each other is 2-1 in favour of O’Donoghue. So I’ll marginally opt for Nenagh native. Just.
Player to Look out for Next Season
Fin: Several names will be on my radar for next season. Players such as Matt Selt, Ben Woollaston and Oliver Lines will I’m sure feature throughout the forthcoming season but Anthony McGill, a player I named earlier as breakthrough player of the season, will no doubt feature quite a lot at the business end of ranking events next season. His attitude and demeanour around the table are a breath of fresh air to the game and to see him play at the recent World Championship with a smile on his face makes one realise just how comfortable he is competing at the highest level.
Sniper: On the pro scene my bet goes to Davy Morris. He has had a good last two seasons and I think he is now finding his feet in the pro game. He has the talent to go a long way, and I honestly think he can go far in any event he buzzes at next season. Second place would go to Matt Selt.
In the amateur scene I dont really see any fresh blood coming up in the Senior rankings, and everyone in the top ten is well-known. I haven’t been on the Irish snooker circuit for two seasons and I’m itching to get back. I think I am more mature now. I’m not going to college full-time so I think I will commit a little more to practice and staying out of the nightclubs (maybe), not to mention the fact that I love the game and I will try my hardest in every match. I’ll be living in Meath next year and the aim next season is to get to my first ranking event final and make the Home Internationals team again. My vote is for me, I’ll try to put my money where my mouth is next season.
SHQ: It would be nice to have an Irish player to punt for here but I’m not sure that’s the case, although it will be interesting to see how national champion Brendan O’Donoghue gets on at the upcoming European Championship. Josh Boileau had a quiet last season and it remains to be seen whether TJ Dowling will have another pop at the European Tour. As for Davy Morris, for the first time since his return to the Main Tour he will have points to defend – and a lot of them in the first half of the next campaign.
Elsewhere, Anthony McGill is an obvious choice but we’ve seen in the past how a breakthrough performance in the World Championship doesn’t always result in an immediate rise up into the higher echelons. After his semi-final appearance in the Welsh Open, this might finally be the season that Luca Brecel shows a bit more consistency. Also keep an eye on Jimmy Robertson.