Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Q School qualifiers: Who are ya?

The gruelling battle that is Q School has come to a conclusion as 12 players secured a two-year professional tour card.

The standard has been as high as expected and there's been both delight and despair as the mad scramble has come to a head, but here's a little more about the dozen who made it through...

Sam Baird: One of the real success stories of this year's Q School as he blitzed his way to qualification in event one without dropping a single frame. Baird lost his place on the tour at the expense of a slow start to the season but definitely showed his credentials later on in the campaign, most notably pushing Mark Selby all the way to a decider in the Welsh Open first round. The 23-year-old potter emerged as a force to watch last season and will be relieved his development wasn't stifled by a spell away from the professional ranks. He's a prime example of why a two-year tour card is such a great idea. He's blessed with composure beyond his years and has showed all the early signs that he belongs among the professionals. Keep your eyes peeled for this promising young player.

Chen Zhe: Another exciting young Chinese player joins the professional circuit. Chen isn't afraid to attack and showed this with consistent performances in last season's PTCs. The 19-year-old arrives in the big time with a big reputation. Stephen Lee and Dominic Dale are among the established professionals who have already been singing his praises. Fellow Chinese players who won through to the tour a year ago settled quickly and managed to make an impact early, so he'll be looking to do the same. He has a good base and a high standard of practice partners being stationed at The Grove, in Essex.

Ian Burns: Was made to really battle for his slot with a hard fought 4-3 victory against veteran Rod Lawler to get over the line in event one. This breakthrough has been coming a while. He won eight matches at last year's Q School events without qualifying and won at least one match in 11 of last season's PTC events including the scalps of Anthony Hamilton and Rory McLeod. Qualification is the result of extreme hard work from the Preston potter but the real test now awaits.

Martin O'Donell: A young player who comes with bundles of potential. O'Donnell practices regularly with top 16 player Martin Gould and is reported to have all the qualities to quickly rise the ranks now he's broken into the professional game. He lost out in the final round of Q School event three last year at the hands of Kurt Maflin but made no such mistake this time to seal his spot in event one against Paul Davison. A player with a great attitude and with his feet still firmly on the ground. He really has earned his place. He won the Snookerbacker Classic to qualify for the Q School and then went all the way at the first time of asking. Tipped to be a big success this season and it's easy to see why.

Paul Davison: Another bite of the cherry for the 39-year-old Yorkshireman. A very experienced professional who secures an immediate return to the professional ranks after falling off just a few weeks earlier. Davison failed to win a ranking event match after qualifying for the German Masters, which cost him dearly. He lost to O'Donnell at the final hurdle of event one but found some form to beat Adrian Gunnell, a player he lost to three times last season, and Gareth Allen en route to securing his place through event two. Paul is a tough match player who is as determined as he was when he first turned professional back in 1996. His qualification wasn't greeted with as much cheer as some of the younger players but he'll be hard to beat on tour again and epitomises the kind of difficult tests the new crop of players will need to pass to prove they have longevity.

Sean O'Sullivan: The 18-year-old East Londoner isn't shy of confidence and now has the chance to put himself to the ultimate test. His decisive victory against Ryan Couston in event two means he realises his dream earlier in his career than many. His reaction to qualification on twitter proved just how much this meant to him. A colourful character that will bring plenty to the circuit.

Jamie O'Neill: Returns to the tour after a disappointing season as a professional in 2010/11 where he recorded just five wins in total. He first turned professional in 2007 but has never proved himself at the highest level. He played in the PTC series last season and enjoyed scalps of professionals Barry Pinches, Dave Harold, Matt Selt and David Gilbert along the way before earning another effort through Q School with the crucial win coming against Scott Donaldson. Big things won't be expected of O'Neill but he could go quietly about his business drawing on the experience he's accumulated from past spells on the tour.

Daniel Wells: A fine Welsh player who has never managed to translate his superb amateur record into success on the professional tour. A very talented player who has found it difficult to make the step up and now has his third attempt to do so. You get the feeling it's now or never for him. His biggest success to date saw him become the 2011 EBSA European Champion. Daniel was on the verge of giving up on snooker in January but has turned his fortunes around with the help of coach Del Hill, with the Q School giving him another chance to shine. He wrapped up his place by beating Michael Wasley in event two.

Joel Walker: Another first time professional who comes with glowing references. Ronnie O'Sullivan claimed this budding young player is a future world champion in the making after he won the Star of the Future competition. Joel won eight frames on the spin in event three to confirm his place. He rallied back from 3-0 down against John Sutton before beating Justin Astley 4-0. These results show he's a capable front-runner as well as having the ability to come from behind. He joins Adam Duffy as another professional from the home of snooker, in Sheffield.

Rod Lawler: Success for an experienced player who has built a career on his grinding attributes. Victory here continues his unbroken spell on the professional dating back to 1990. The Liverpool man had to fight off the wave of young players threatening to flood the professional ranks but he did so as many people tipped. Counted on all his experience but still has the hunger to play and the benefit of plenty of know-how around the table.

Michael Wasley: Wasley's qualification for the professional tour nearly wasn't to be after he lost in the final match of event two 4-3 to Daniel Wells, but he came back to beat Scotland’s Fraser Patrick in event three. A big cheer came from Gloucester as the 22-year-old strengthened the army of professional players from the South West Snooker Academy. A popular lad with a massive opportunity ahead of him.

Robbie Williams: He's been the butt of a few jokes over the past day or so but if you look beyond him sharing his name with a certain Take That star, you'll find he came through one hell of a tussle to secure the final Q School qualification place for another year. He had to battle past Mitchell Mann, but did so with the aid of an impressive century in the decider. This came a day after he'd already defeated the experience of Adrian Gunnell. This isn't the first we've heard of the Mersyside man though. He recorded excellent wins against Peter Ebdon and Ali Carter in PTC1 at the start of last season.

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