Ken Doherty has dropped off the Main Tour after a 10-4 defeat to Ben Woollaston at the penultimate stage of World Championship qualifying on Monday.
The Irishman, for whom this year marks the 20th anniversary of his world title glory in 1997, couldn’t find the form to avoid dropping outside the top 64 in the world rankings.
A professional since 1990, Doherty also enjoyed a stellar amateur career, winning the World Amateur Championship and the World Under-21 Championship in 1989, as well as two Irish National Championships.
It didn’t take too long for the Dubliner to make his mark on the Main Tour, winning the Benson and Hedges Championship in 1991 to qualify for the Masters for the first time.
That prestigious invitational tournament produced one of Doherty’s career defining moments for all the wrong reasons when, in the 2000 final against Matthew Stevens, he missed a routine final black off the spot for a 147 break – which, at the time, was still a rare feat to accomplish.
The 47 year-old’s ability to accept the persistent banter hurled his way over the years since is testament to his affable character and good natured spirit around the circuit.
Taking up membership of the various committees and player forums, Doherty has always been a true ambassador to the sport.
Doherty’s maiden ranking event success came in the 1993 Welsh Open and he added five more ranking titles, including the big one in Sheffield in 1997 when he ended Stephen Hendry’s long reign of dominance.
He came close to breaking the “Curse of the Crucible” the following year, almost becoming the first first-time champion to defend the crown, but lost to John Higgins in the final, and was also defeated in an epic 2003 final by Mark Williams.
Doherty had an opportunity to become the world number one in 2006 but a surprising loss to Marco Fu in the quarter-finals of the World Championship meant he had to settle for second – his highest ever ranking.
Since then, positive results have increasingly become more difficult to come by and he has suffered a steady decline in recent seasons.
What comes next for the “Darlin’ of Dublin” remains to be seen, with the option of entering Q-School on the horizon if he fancies trying to immediately get back on the tour.
Doherty still loves playing the game but openly admits he doesn’t give as much attention to practice as he used to, focusing more on his increasing radio and TV commitments, which have provided him with a second career.
For Irish snooker, it’s a sad day as the man who inspired a generation of snooker players from the country is on the cusp of retirement.
The night of his World Championship success created stories of legend, with the streets of Dublin not providing a single phone call of distress to the police in the hours during his triumph.
Doherty wasn’t the only veteran competitor to lose his tour card on day six, as Northern Irishman Joe Swail’s defeat at the hands of Luca Brecel similarly sees him fail to survive.
However, another Irish stalwart Fergal O’Brien prevailed in a gruelling 10-9 encounter which ended well after 2am and which the 45 year-old won on the final pink.
O’Brien, who will play David Gilbert at the final hurdle, hasn’t featured in a World Championship since 2010.
Meanwhile, Mark Williams fought from 8-6 down to deny Liam Highfield in a decider to move to within one win of a place in Thursday’s last 32 draw.
Williams appeared to be unhappy with the table conditions, taking to Twitter to cryptically voice his concerns, but managed to progress and will play Stuart Carrington for a World Championship berth.
2006 world champion Graeme Dott and fellow Scot Stephen Maguire also advanced with heavy victories over Dechawat Poomjaeng and Nigel Bond respectively.
Elsewhere, Reanne Evans was unable to follow up from her headline grabbing first round triumph over Robin Hull, gamely fighting back from 6-1 down against Lee Walker before succumbing to the Welshman in a 10-6 loss.
Last year’s semi-finalist Alan McManus was also ousted, in a slow-paced 10-5 defeat to Rod Lawler.
Iranian Hossein Vafaei Ayouri produced some excellent snooker in beating Matthew Selt, increasing the possibility of a number of different nationalities qualifying for the main event this year – with Chinese, Thai, Belgian, and Swiss players all in contention on Judgement Day as well.
Ranking event winners Michael White and Mark King both advanced comfortably, but German Masters champion Anthony Hamilton, reportedly struggling with a recurring back injury, was denied in a deciding frame thriller with Noppon Saengkham which went down to the final colours.
Among the others to book their spots in the final two days of action were Tom Ford, Jimmy Robertson, David Grace, Rory McLeod, and Chinese duo Xiao Guodong and Li Hang.
The opening session of all the final round fixtures will be played on Tuesday before the always massively dramatic Judgement Day on Wednesday sees the 16 qualifiers determined.
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