Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Talking Snooker... with Snooker HQ

With a brief respite from the packed snooker calendar coming along in time for Christmas and New Year, OnCue returns with the popular Talking Snooker feature.

Snooker Island and Maximum Snooker blogs have already shared their views here this season.

But this time out, David Caulfield from SnookerHQ blog discusses the major baize talking points.

David is based in the Republic of Ireland and devotes a lot of his time commentating from over the seas on the Irish game. He adds a great presence to Twitter chipping in with insightful views on the main professional world circuit.

In this feature, he'll share more of his opinions including reaction to Judd Trump's recent UK win, how Mark Allen has hit the headlines and thoughts on this season's second PTC series.

Here's what we had to say:

OnCue:  Thank you for joining me. There's lots to talk about. I'm sure we could be here all day but we'll try to keep it concise.

SnookerHQ: Definitely. I've read the last couple of features actually and I've been looking forward to doing it.

OnCue: That's good to hear. The best place to start has got to be the UK Championship. I thought we were treated to an absolutely brilliant event this season. Seeing the game's star of the future, Judd Trump, win it was a very fitting end too.

SnookerHQ: I wasn't able to get across from Ireland for the tournament this year but my eyes were glued to the television. I caught pretty much all of it and was so pleased Judd won it.

OnCue: Yeah, he's the man of the moment and loving every second of his success. His win seems to have gone down well with everyone. I think Trump is at that age where he's desperate to do everything. He's bursting with enthusiasm to play. He wants to win everything and that's probably a major reason for his vast fanbase. He's got the attitude to match his ability. That usually goes down well with snooker fans.

SnookerHQ: He's a breathe of fresh air to the sport. His emergence into a top player has been the perfect timing, in line with Barry Hearn's snooker revolution. It's been a big year for him and important he followed up his World Championship final with the title in York.

OnCue: It proved it was no fluke but also showed how he's matured as a player in a short period of time. Unlike at the Crucible, he didn't play well from start to finish. He gradually played his way into the tournament. He got better and better as he played each match and then produced his best performance against Allen in the final. That's not an unusual way for for champions to go about their business in the biggest tournaments. It bodes well for the future.

SnookerHQ: It was probably one of the best finals in recent memory. It was a high quality match. Allen played his part but Trump has just had an incredible year and was almost destined to win it. A lot of people are getting carried away with Trump's success but I think he's just got to be a little bit careful.

It would be a very easy thing to do to get all the money, all the flash, all the exposure and let it get to his head. That's the test for him next year. However good he is, I do think some of his attacking shots are crazy. They won't always go in and in the UK final they didn't all go in. He should keep his attacking game but hone in some shots next year, just a little bit. It will make him a better player in the long run.

OnCue: It's a very fine line but I'd argue that without his attacking instincts he wouldn't have achieved what he has this season. Luck has favoured the brave. He's got a great eye for a pot and is the star he is because of it. The great thing about his emergence this year is not only how he's done it but because a lot of people had already written him off. It took him slightly longer than people predicted for to breakthrough. He was tipped as a future world champion so long ago that at the start of this year, people were saying he was over-hyped. Then, all of a sudden, he stepped up a level. That must be satisfying for him. He's learned the game through a few seasons in the qualifiers and is here to stay at the top of the sport for a long time now.

Let's move on to Mark Allen. He could easily have won this tournament as well. He had an incredible week and attracted all the attention in York, on and off the table. Firstly, his tirade against Barry Hearn won plenty of headlines...

SnookerHQ: I  might be from Ireland but I'm not a huge fan of Allen. I can understand some of his complaints but a couple of the quotes were nonsense. Especially when he said Barry was good for the sport in the long-term but not the short-term. It doesn't make any sense. Why would you want something to only be good for the instant? Surely you'd want to safeguard it for 10 or 20 years.

OnCue: I'm all for players sharing their opinions but I thought the timing was all wrong. Snooker struggles to get in the national news and this was perfect for grabbing that kind of attention but it just fell right in the midst of our second biggest event. In my opinion, it detracted from that a little.

But saying that, he did a lot of talking on the table as well. I thought his cue ball control was superb. He's always been a good potter but his positional play and safety game looks like it's come on leaps and bounds. I think in that sense he backed up his statements.

SnookerHQ: The sequence of three centuries in four frames in the final from Allen made him look unstoppable. He put the pressure on Trump. But do you think he did his talking on purpose? You said you didn't like the timing but he slagged off Stuart Bingham at the Australian Open as well. Was the timing in fact all right?

OnCue: It's an interesting point. He's said before he struggles with depression so maybe this is the way he motivates himself to play the game. Maybe this is his way of getting himself up for a big tournament. The controversy galvanised him. It was like him against the snooker world and it brought the best out of him.

SnookerHQ: My thoughts exactly. He said he doesn't want to be the bad boy of snooker but I think he actually does.

OnCue: It's not all bad. These kind of sub-plots do add something extra to the longer tournaments. The whole week was excellent and returning to York made a massive difference with every match televised. These factors all contributed to an excellent tournament.

SnookerHQ: The Barbican is far more snooker orientated than Telford ever was. I was sceptical of the change of format but I have to admit it worked out well. You can see the benefits of having all the matches on television and there's a part of me that feels you earn the right to play on television by qualifying for the UK Championship. I'd maybe have made the quarter-final matches longer than just best-of-11-frame matches but that could well change next season. Hearn used the format change to explain the great ticket sales whereas it was probably more down to the tournament being back in York.

We've seen some excellent crowds in Europe at some of the PTCs this season. I liked that this event proved to the rest of the world that the UK can put on a show as well.

OnCue: Talking of putting on a show, Marco Fu was superb in the tournament. His performance against Stuart Bingham in round one was that of a top eight player, in my opinion. He's a classy break builder and showed that maybe he produces his best on the bigger stages. He's been a forgotten man with his poor form elsewhere this season but this was a timely reminder of what he can do.

SnookerHQ: Likewise Stephen Maguire. Rob Walker says he's on fire but he hasn't been on fire for a long time. He played well again. He's a good character and is good to watch. His win against John Higgins stood out for me.

OnCue: Maguire has had a lot of criticism this season as well. He's been part of the crew criticising the PTCs and has had a few moments where he temperament has cost him. He just played snooker again at the UK Championship and proved to people why he's won tournaments.

SnookerHQ: When he's at his best, there's few better. He's an under-achiever in my opinion but showed what he can do again. Ricky Walden was another player who shined. His run to the semi-final impressed everyone. Against Shaun Murphy he was particularly good and could have made the final easily.

OnCue: I think of the modern player as those who are aggressive, strike the cue ball hard, strike from range and get into the reds quickly. It's quite refreshing to watch Ricky who has a great touch. He's a little more delicate and has good finesse. He added something different to the business end of the competition.

SnookerHQ: I think he would be so much more successful if he didn't play so fast. It suits his style, of course, because he's so fluent but, he does often throw in a quick one and it costs him matches. I don't know why it is. It's not even on the pressure balls. Great week for him though.

OnCue: It was a cracking week though, all in all. The big events will always be the bread and butter of the season for me but there's been so much time devoted to the PTCs in recent weeks. They've become the cornerstone of the circuit and there's definitely a sense of match sharpness about the players. The standard has been excellent. 

SnookerHQ: I agree. We've been spoilt with lots of 147s, of course. We even got two in one day and they feel a bit like buses. It's funny because there was quite a big gap between Ronnie O'Sullivan's in Germany and the flurry we've had of late. It says a lot about the standard. 

OnCue: Sure, it does but we've got to remember there are far more matches now than in the past. But, it's getting people excited and creating a real buzz about the game.

SnookerHQ: I think it will probably be next season or the one after where we go past 100 maximum breaks. 

OnCue: I still love watching a 147. There's something very special about it. Ding Junhui has already made two this season. That's no surprise though. He's an excellent break builder and could easily surpass O'Sullivan's record of 11 in the future.

It's great to see the big breaks but the best thing about this season's PTCs in my opinion is the mix of venues. I think the European events have been the real success story of the campaign. 

SnookerHQ: Yeah I'd have to go along with that apart from the event in Killarney. That was a bit disappointing for us here in Ireland. It was pretty atrocious. It was far too south and if you're going to host it outside of Dublin I think it needs to be in a major city like Cork or Galway so the transport links are better. The crowds were poor and there was a fiasco with referees not turning up, which put a real strain on the tournament. But the events in Poland, Germany and Belgium were superb.

OnCue: I'm almost certain there won't be 12 PTCs next season but I think it's essential the European events are protected. It's imperative for the profile of the sport globally and is much better for the players to be in front of crowds, playing for a bit more money instead of being locked in the cubicles too often with a smaller pot of money for each. 

SnookerHQ: I totally agree and think there should be no more than eight with only one or two in Sheffield and Gloucester. I though the South West Snooker Academy out on a great show. Those events seem to have gone down very well., so eight tournaments would give us the best balance. 

OnCue: That's on my to-do list next season. A visit to Gloucester sounds like a must for any snooker fan. I did manage to get to Sheffield this season and conditions there aren't great. That's been highlighted by a lot of players. I think now the novelty of a greater quantity of events has worn off, we're starting to take a closer look at the quality of the events. That's only a natural progression in anything that experiences huge change, like snooker has. 

SnookerHQ: If you're going from one weekend playing in front of 1,500 people in Poland to just four people in Sheffield, there will be rumblings of discontent. It must be uninspiring for the top professionals, in particular. It's a different story in Gloucester but the variation of the key to success here..

Thinking longer term as well, I think it's likely that some of the European events could evolve into fully-fledged ranking events in a few years if the PTC tour keeps visiting them. That's a great incentive for organisers. 

OnCue: I'd agree with that and that has to be the aim, to have bigger ranking events across the world. We've made a big step forward in that area this season. Another success in my opinion has been seeing more top players in the PTCs more regularly. Although hands have been forced, the top players have played in many more events and the quality of the tournaments and finals has been higher than last season. 

SnookerHQ: I think a lot of top players didn't realise how important the PTCs would be in terms of rankings last season. Over 12 events the rankings points available for these builds up and players were quickly paying the price for not entering. Neil Robertson, Trump and O'Sullivan are good examples of that. They've all played in more of these tournaments and have all won two. Players may not necessarily like them as much as the bigger tournaments but they're seeing the value in them. It's also a good opportunity for some of the lesser known players to get in the winner's enclosure.

OnCue: There's more to win now, certainly and that always increases competition. Players in the middle ranks see their rivals around them winning a tournament and want a piece of the same. You're judged on what you've won at the end of your career and this is a good way for players to make their mark in the sport and build momentum going into the biggest tournaments. 

SnookerHQ: The Eurosport coverage and live streaming of these events is getting many more players known to the public. Again, it's another way of raising the profile of the game. I'm all for that. 

OnCue: That's an excellent point. I've seen so much more of different players this season than in the past. I've got to grips with player's styles of play and have been really impressed with the Asian contingent. I've been able to regularly watch the likes of Xiao Guodong, Yu Delu, Li Yan, Passakorn Suwannawat and Dechawat Poomjaeng. It's great exposure for the up and coming talents of the game. 

SnookerHQ: Jamie Jones, Michhael White and Jack Lisowski are probably the players that have stuck out most for me. They could be players to keep an eye on in the next two to three years. 

OnCue: They've all proved they can go on runs and beat the top players. They'll be brimming with the belief that they can now convert it onto the televised venues. 

SnookerHQ: The young players don't look afraid of the more experienced professionals anymore. I think a lot of the stalwarts of the game will disappear off of the tour in the coming seasons because of the PTCs. Barry Hearn is giving the young players the chance to progress, and quickly. 

OnCue: I don't think you can underestimate the affect the PTCs have on the top players. I think any opportunity to build form is a positive and competitive match practice is a very useful tool. There have been plenty of criticisms of the PTCs this season. I can understand many of them. There does need to be changes to the format slightly but in the long-term, I think it's great for the game.

In general, 2011 has been a top year for the sport as well. What do you regard as the stand-out moments? 

SnookerHQ: I'd have to say the final of the German Masters between Mark Selby and Mark Williams when the crowd gave a standing ovation for two to three minutes. It was breathtaking although when Trump and Higgins came out for the final session at the Crucible, it was pretty special too. 

OnCue: I was also going to mention Bingham winning the Australian Open. He's one of the real nice guys of the tour and captured his first ranking title after 16 years of toil in the qualifiers. I'd also put in a shout for the Masters final, having our first all-Asian final. It's great for the game. 

SnookerHQ: It was fitting that Ding won that too. It completely closed the chapter on the horrible final a few years ago with Ronnie. That moment always lives in my memory. It was heartbreaking to see him so crushed. His win there was superb. 

OnCue: Talking of Ding, my match of the year was probably his World Championship semi-final against Trump. The standard was incredible. 

SnookerHQ: That's probably the greatest semi-final I've ever seen. We were robbed of a decider but it still couldn't have been much better. 

OnCue: Looking ahead now. I'm feeling a big year for Robertson. He's ready to add a couple of titles, in my opinion. He's been so consistent and is due a big win. His excellent record in finals shows he knows how to play the big occasion as well. 

SnookerHQ: I completely agree. He's playing better now than when he won the world title but he didn't win a major ranking title in 2011 for the first year since 2005. I expect Ding to find some form in the bigger events as well but what is Ronnie going to do? He needs a big year. He could win multiple titles or crash out in the first rounds. His near-miss with falling out of the top 16 probably makes that plot one of the biggest for 2012. 

OnCue: There are tournament winners everywhere now but Ronnie still has the ability to dominate. He'll be fascinating to watch.... I can't wait!

Join me again later this season for another edition of Talking Snooker.

1 comment:

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