The latest chapter in a series of articles looking back at each campaign from the Crucible era.
During the 2004/05 snooker season, there was very much a sense that a slight changing of the guard was in motion.
The previous eight to ten years had seen the same dozen or so players dominate at the top of the game without much change.
While many of them would continue to thrive at the very pinnacle of the sport, from here on other reliable contenders would begin to somewhat fade away and become replaced by an exciting crop of new talent.
One of those was Scotland’s Stephen Maguire, who had announced himself as an emerging star during the prior campaign when he beat Jimmy White to claim his maiden ranking title in the European Open.
Towards the start of the 2004/05 snooker season, Maguire featured in another couple of finals – in the very last British Open to be staged and again in the more prestigious UK Championship.
In the former, a tournament that had been a mainstay on the calendar for more than two decades, Maguire was in imperious form and thumped world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan in the semi-finals.
But fellow Scot John Higgins stopped the attack-minded talent in his tracks to finally break his own remarkable duck of not having triumphed at this level since the same event three years earlier.
Maguire was unfazed, and a week later he went to the Barbican Centre in York to arguably produce one of the most dominating tournament performances ever.
Nobody could get near the then 23 year-old, including O’Sullivan who lost again to the Glaswegian in the last 32.
Maguire proceeded to easily beat Steve Davis, Stephen Lee, and Mark King to reach the final, where he put on a devastating display to annihilate David Gray 10-1.
O’Sullivan, the world number one at the time, predicted that Maguire would take over the game and dominate for a decade, such was the impressiveness of his displays.
Ironically, it would be the “Rocket” who would inflict several noteworthy defeats on the challenger to his throne that would ultimately set him back and prevent him, up until the present day, of ever adding to his Triple Crown haul.
For that particular brief period Maguire had O’Sullivan’s number, but the latter was enjoying a terrific 2004/05 snooker season in general regardless.
At the Grand Prix in October, the “Rocket” denied Ian McCulloch a victory on his home turf in Preston, while just after the New Year’s celebrations he got one over on his old rival Stephen Hendry to claim the Welsh Open crown.
A month later, the Englishman triumphed in the Masters for what was only the second time in his career at that point, and in March O’Sullivan added the Irish Masters title for good measure.
All eyes were on his potential defence in Sheffield, and as had become the norm O’Sullivan went into the World Championship as a hefty favourite with the bookies.
For a while it looked good, but an infamous showdown with another familiar foe slowly – very slowly – brought his second reign at the Crucible to an end.
Peter Ebdon, champion three years earlier of course, had trailed 8-2 in their quarter-final battle but employed his now trademark war-of-attrition tactics to reel in his esteemed opponent, and crucially get under his skin.
It worked, and with Ebdon taking more than five minutes to make mere breaks of 12, O’Sullivan cracked – losing 13-11.
Ebdon was arguably the new favourite for glory, but while Maguire had dominated the headlines in the first half of the 2004/05 snooker season, it was the turn of another young prospect at the World Championship.
Few knew much about Shaun Murphy ahead of that edition of the sport’s flagship tournament, but that all dramatically changed during an epic 17 days.
With standout successes over former champions John Higgins and Steve Davis already under his belt, Murphy stunned Ebdon in the last four to reach the final.
Matthew Stevens was the player on the other side of the table, one of those aforementioned mainstays of the top ten whose time at the very highest echelons was nearing its conclusion.
Stevens had an incredible record in the World Championship, a clear example if ever there needed to be one of a competitor who preferred longer matches.
But despite numerous semi-final appearances and a missed opportunity in the 2000 final, the Welshman could never get his hands on the trophy.
Once again, Stevens had the silverware within his grasp but like many times before he couldn’t quite manage to see it through to the end.
In a barnstorming encounter that ebbed one way and then the other, 22 year-old Murphy emerged as an 18-16 winner and the first qualifier since Terry Griffiths to go all the way in the big one.
Strangely, even though Maguire and Murphy had won the two most prestigious ranking events that term, it was the emergence of one other special cueist that proved more important to the sport’s future.
Just before the World Championship, the China Open was staged for the first time in three years in the country’s capital city of Beijing.
Trips to China had become common enough and ranking events were put on in the past, but in terms of breaking into one of the world’s biggest territories there hadn’t really been a sign of what was to come.
In 2005, that all changed when a certain teenager by the name of Ding Junhui entered the fray with an enormous impact.
Ding’s talent was known at that point because he had already triumphed in the World Under-21 Championship and had received a wildcard to compete in the Masters in both 2004 and 2005.
Yet, while many predicted he would eventually rise to join the elite, few expected it to happen so memorably on home soil.
In Beijing for the China Open, Ding thrashed the likes of Peter Ebdon and Ken Doherty with whitewash displays to reach the final, where he beat seven-time world champion Hendry to capture his first professional silverware.
Hendry had earlier won the Malta Cup – a win that would turn out to be the last of his 36 career ranking titles – and was expected to have enough in his arsenal to overcome the youngster.
But with Ding turning 18 during the event, he managed to display the kind of killer-instinct attributes that Hendry himself had perfected at a similar age almost two decades earlier.
Even more importantly, Ding had created a frenzy in his homeland China and almost overnight became one of the country’s biggest sporting heroes.
Over the following few years, new tournaments would be established in the Asian market and it can all be traced back to that pivotal point in the sport’s history on April 3rd when Ding toppled the “King”.
Unfortunately, while the sport reveled in its newest champion, only three days after Ding’s triumph there was news of a more serious and grounding nature.
World number four Paul Hunter announced that he had a rare form of cancer and was going to need chemotherapy treatment.
And so began one of snooker’s saddest stories.