Fergal O’Brien Battles into the World Championship

Fergal O’Brien has qualified for the World Championship for the first time in seven years after a marathon 10-9 victory over David Gilbert on Wednesday.

Fergal O'Brien Legends 2
O’Brien will need more than forty winks of sleep over the next couple of days to recover. Photo credit: Monique Limbos

Trailing 6-3 overnight, O’Brien won the first four frames of the second session to lead 7-6 only to lose the following three to go to within the brink of defeat.

Runs of 62, 61, and 56 helped him to force a dramatic decider which broke the record for the longest in snooker history.

As the clock incredibly ticked beyond the two-hour mark, O’Brien sank the winning colours to deny Gilbert in a thriller – providing a fitting way to conclude proceedings at Ponds Forge.

O’Brien had failed to qualify courtesy of deciding frame defeats in three World Championship qualifiers since 2011 so it will be a massive relief for the 45 year-old, having also beaten Tian Pengfei in the penultimate round 10-9 in a match that ended at 2:30am.

The Irishman’s resolve and never-say-die attitude is well documented but once again plaudits must go his way as he lives up to his nickname of the “Ferginator”.

To his delight, he’ll be back at the Crucible this season and there’ll be few seeds who’ll wish to get the former ranking event winner’s name in Thursday’s draw.

Meanwhile, on a busy final day of action in Sheffield, former world champions Peter Ebdon and Graeme Dott both ensured their returns to the scene of their most famous triumphs.

Two-time champion Mark Williams crashed out, though, in a 10-7 loss to Englishman Stuart Carrington.

Williams, who narrowly missed out on an automatic berth when he reached the final of the China Open earlier in April, rode his luck in the first two preliminary rounds but couldn’t muster another fight back as Carrington booked a World Championship spot for only the second time in his career.

It’ll be huge disappointment for the Welshman, who must have felt confident of a strong showing given his form in Beijing, but it just goes to underline the cut-throat nature of the qualifiers.

Someone else who will testify to that will be Michael Holt, who threw away a mountain of golden opportunities before being felled on the final black against Ebdon.

Holt, who battled strongly form 6-3 down, had chances to prevail 10-8 and again in the decider, but watched in agony as the 2002 world champion completed a marvellous clearance from blue to black to prevail.

Scotland’s Dott was also involved in a right tussle as he won the last three frames to overcome Jamie Jones 10-8.

Elsewhere, there will be five debutants at the Crucible this year.

Gary Wilson was the first to get his name thrown into the hat after a comprehensive 10-3 triumph over a hapless Michael White.

It’ll prove to be a memorable week for the former taxi driver after he also compiled a 147 break in his earlier victory over Josh Boileau.

Fellow Englishman David Grace also managed a 10-3 win over Thai Akani Songsermsawad and will be a popular qualifier after all the good efforts he puts into promoting the amateur game in his hometown of Leeds and around the country.

However, Thailand has got a player in the last 32 as Noppon Saengkham edged Lee Walker in another close tie 10-8.

Talented young Chinese duo Zhou Yuelong and Yan Bingtao, winners together in the 2015 World Cup, make up the selection of newbies in this year’s edition after contrasting successes over Ben Woollaston and Alexander Ursenbacher respectively.

Yan confidently surged passed the latter 10-4 but Zhou, who will provisionally rise into the top 32 in the world rankings, emerged from another gruelling battle that required all 19 frames.

Other notable names to advance were Stephen Maguire and Luca Brecel, two players who few will again wish to draw in the first round proper.

Martin Gould overcame Yu Delu 10-7 while Jimmy Robertson beat Rod Lawler 10-6.

Tom Ford denied Iranian Hossein Vafaei Ayouri a Crucible debut with a 10-8 scoreline, while Xiao Guodong hammered Northern Ireland Open champion Mark King 10-4 and Rory McLeod withstood a late rally from Hammad Miah for a 10-7 victory.

All attention now turns to Thursday’s draw, which will be made with 1980 world champion Cliff Thorburn at 10am on World Snooker’s Facebook Live.

Click here to view the draw.

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