A couple of months ago, I was asked by PJ Nolan to create something about what it was like playing as a youngster back in 1992/93 and to include the players and the excitement of that season. That’s coming up to 30 years ago now, and at firstly I didn’t know what angle to take.
Dermot Dalton, RIBSA’s main man in running junior tournaments, had got my name from an Irish Under-19 Championship held the previous Spring in a Kilkenny snooker club (a tournament that I showed nothing in, losing two nil in the first round, and being choked with nerves).
He sent out a letter inviting me to the upcoming Dublin Masters in Q’s Club, Clondalkin. I begged my Dad to take me and eventually gave way, saying that he would. Bear in mind his fourteen-year-old son hadn’t knocked in a century at this stage. This was a big deal for him, as it meant giving up two days of work to go with me.
The nervous excitement waiting on the train in Wexford as departure time is fast approaching: two o’clock on a September afternoon, with the loan of a one-piece case in my right hand and my father chaperoning and minding me, wondering how he got himself roped into this one.
We set off and made our way up to Dublin with the radio bellowing out Freddie Mercury’s ‘Barcelona’ with the Summer Olympics in Spain fresh in the memory (and after the Queen frontman had not long passed) and Mylie Cyrus’ father Billy Ray singing about his achy breaky heart.
This was a regular routine from September to May – players getting themselves ready for points tournaments held in Clondalkin, Galway, Tralee, Waterford, Celbridge, Navan, Carlow, Wexford or the Castle in Drimnagh, Dublin. Players would finish work or their education early on Fridays. Once a month, all comers from the width and breadth of the country would be getting ready on a Friday morning to get to their evening matches. Some were lucky enough to have the night off and start at 10am on Saturday. From the four corners of the country, players would hop on buses and trains, pack a car or hire one out. Some locals would buy a car for the tournaments. Others would hitchhike at times, with one player even cycling from Limerick to Tralee for the chance to play in a points tournament!
After getting to Dublin city centre, we made our way out to Clondalkin. On the bus out, we met others players with their cases doing the same. My dad said to one hopeful in particular ‘You must be playing the tournament?’ ‘I am, where are you coming from?’ he replied. When we said Wexford, the Meath accented player responded ‘Ah John Buckley country’. The person we were talking to was a young Colm Gilcreest, Irish International, and Irish amateur Champion later on that season.
The venue was and still is the home of Fergal O Brien, who had been professional for one year. (Fergal was the man who had recently beaten Ken Doherty in the revived Irish Professional Championship, a tournament won by Northern Ireland’s latest professional, Joe Swail.
We would get to the club to have a knock about as a whole new world awaited us. What a beautiful club it was. 52 tables all on ground floor, the premises smelling of snooker. The place was buzzing with the influx of players ready for the start of the new season, all 142 of them with different goals in their heads. After a quick walk around and reading their news board, I saw there was A4 page after A4 page consisting of Dublin league fixtures. It was like wallpaper! There must have been 12 divisions in Dublin snooker league back then.
We were greeted by friendly faces behind the counter. Pat Lenihan was the manager of the club. Jim Leacy and Paul Fidgeon were going around shaking hands making everyone feel welcome. I remember the toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, part of the hospitality provided by a lot of clubs back then. They tasted beautiful with a hot tea, especially after a win!!!!
Play would commence at half 6 on a Friday evening and would end with a winner on Sunday evening. Two women: Gloria Ruane and Geraldine MacGilivary were taking the check-ins and running the tournament as tournament director and head ref. The refs all ready to go for each table. My preliminary match was at 8pm and came through 3-1 in a totally forgettable match. I can’t even remember who my opponent was. Apologies to him.
All of a sudden I was competing against players that I had only read about in snooker magazines and national papers. A quick description of the snooker landscape nationally and internationally in September 1992 looked like this: If you had the money, you payed your way into the pro ranks, and you would enter a summer-time of qualifying in Blackpool. There were 719 professionals for the 1992/93 season. The amateurs had recently lost the latest whizz-kid – 16 year-old Michael Judge from Shankill – to the open pro ranks. Slightly older but still a teen was Maynooth’s Joe Canny who played out of Celbridgeand also went to the Blackpool summer of qualifying. Finglas’ Joe Delaney had gone too the previous season with a host of other Irish lads ready for a crack at the big time. Ken Doherty, two years a pro, was fulfilling his national and international amateur potential with runs at the British Open in Derby (a semi-finalist) and the Benson and Hedges Irish Masters in Goff’s (the final) the previous spring. Stephen Murphy got the Crucible that year losing to eventual winner Stephen Hendry 10-3.
A 16-year-old Ronnie O’Sullivan would run riot that summer in Blackpool, winning 70-odd matches. Stephen Hendry got back his world crown, carrying on from his maiden victory in 1990. Neal Foulds would win the Regal Scottish Masters later that month, defeating Gary Wilkinson 10-9. A new rule came in on the 1st January 1992 in the professional ranks: the miss rule. It would take a few years for it to kick in with the Irish amateur tournaments.
Back on the Irish Amateur scene now to some players who really caught my eye and had a mystique about them that weekend and for years to come. Wicklow’s Jason Watson was the reigning Irish Amateur Champion two years in a row, having come third the previous year in the World Amateur Championships in Thailand. Earlier that month he won the All-Ireland Championships by beating Northern Ireland’s Declan Hughes 5-2. Jason was a serious operator and coolness personified. He played very much a consistent, professional game in an amateur world. An amateur Davis in some ways; a thinking man; you had to try to beat him in the mind as well as the table. Two months later Jason and Paul O’Donoghue would travel to Malta to play in the World Amateur Championships, the IBSF having seeded the Wicklow man number one for the event. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for either man as they failed to qualify out of the groups. Jason came third in his 8-man group, losing out only on frame difference, while Paul finished fourth in his 9-man group. Only two came through the group stage in an event won by Englishman Neil Mosley
For all that I read about John Buckley from Enniscorthy, Wexford, I had never seen him play. I wouldn’t have to wait too long to get my wish. I played the Irish Amateur Champion of 1988 in the first-round proper in Q’s Clondalkin at half 11 on the Saturday morning. He walloped me 3-0. His style and touch I fell in love with from the start. He came up to me at the end of the match as he was packing his cue away and comforted me with the words ‘You stick at it son, you’ll be a good one”. To this day I don’t know what he saw in me. I was a trier who at that stage couldn’t play his way out of a paper bag. But I always appreciated those words.
Many weekends afterwards I would sit and admire this colossus of a snooker player play. Favouritism? Yes, most definitely because he was from Wexford, but a great player, with an unbelievable will to win and tremendous belief in himself. Buckley was a student of the late great Larry Codd school of coaching, himself a four times national billiards champion. He was a great presence, motivator and calmness for John (he would be for me as well in later years).
John could undo himself when he wasn’t reaching his usual high standards, and at times would play to the crowd with drastic consequences for himself and others who played with him. But when the head was right, he was a hard man who generated great excitement when he played in different clubs. He showed that later on that season when he won the Irish Open (defeating John Brady 5-3) in the Perrot Club, Dublin; the top 32 European Qualifers in Fairview Snooker Club (defeating Dave Kelly 4-3 in the final) to qualify for the European Amateur Championships, held in Helsinki, Finland where he lost in the quarter finals to eventual winner and reigning World Amateur Champion, Neil Mosley.
The following season he would create history, with the 26-year-old being the first Irish snooker player to knock in a maximum in the Connaught Masters, held at The Olympic Club, Ballybane, Galway against Waterford’s Tom O’Driscoll. Trifik Forklifts sponsored a prize of eight thousand Irish pounds for the feat. For once, the winner of the event, the late John Cronin would be overshadowed by the maximum man.
In between games I was tapped on the shoulder by a fellow Wexford man, Marty Hayden telling me to ‘Sit down and watch this man play’. The player in question was Dublin’s Paul Ennis, a great player with very much a loose finger grip who had a hypnotic way in around the black.
The previous Guinness Irish Championship programme was lying around at the venue so I took advantage and read up about all the players. I discovered Paul had gone to London but unfortunately didn’t make it as a professional. All I can say is I’ve seen professionals not strike a ball as well as Paul. He could hit the ball beautifully; always in and around the big breaks of the point tournaments, and around 1995 and 1996, he got his game back to a level where he was winning points tournaments and competing seriously for the Irish Amateur Championships, reaching the final in 1995.
There were others as well that we stopped and had a look at, such as Tipperary’s Tom Gleeson (who won the Munster Open – the third event of the season); Wexford’s Joe Delaney (who I only met for the first time that weekend); Limerick’s John Cronin, the number one player in the country; and Corkman Paul O’Donoghue who won Dublin Open that season.
I also caught a glimpse of two of Monkstown’s finest- Mick Kane and John Farrell; Kildare’s Flann Hayes who won the next event – the Connaught Masters); Carlow’s Billy O Neill; and Waterford’s Douglas Hogan , winner of the Leinster Masters that season.
As you can see, there was a good mix of counties within the game, with a lot of the so called ‘culchie’s’ ready for the challenge of putting down the capital’s players. Dublin was ever so slightly losing its grip while the provincial towns were producing strong players.
While we were still taking it all in, we noticed there were two mature Dublin people looking on at the matches, with no allegiance to any one player bar their interest in snooker. At first glance they looked like a couple, but in later years we found out they were just best friends. One was Tommy Goulding (Mr Wiggle Waggle) and the other Maureen Butler. Their warm teas in hand, they would go around to some of the clubs, especially in Dublin. Tommy was always well dressed in his colourful dickie bow and sometimes a Higginsesque hat, whereas Maureen just loved the game and only wanted to see good snooker played. She had a beautiful presence about her, would always gave you a smile, a ‘Hello’ and enquire ‘How did you get on?’ Tommy was not just a snooker lover, but he had a serious knowledge of the game and of coaching. He was always on hand to show anyone who was willing to listen out for a few pointers. I still have his routine book that he gave me back in 1997. They were lovely people who have sadly passed away, but are fondly thought of every once in a while, with a smile.
There was also a new whiz kid: 13-year-old Robert Murphy from Monkstown, Dublin, newly crowned All Ireland Under-16 Champion, who also played in two BBC junior Pot Blacks in 1992 and 1993. The previous May he had qualified for the last 16 of the Guinness Irish Amateur Championships. Later that month, Robert would team up with Cork’s James Linehan (Irish Intermediate Champion); Tuam’s Declan Murphy (who was beaten in the previous year’s final of BBC’s Junior Pot Black by a 15-year-old Ronnie O’Sullivan); and Kildare’s Philip O’Rourke to win the Junior Home Internationals in Cardiff. They were managed by Dublin’s Mick Kelly.
This was a serious win, when you consider the fact that future professionals and champions like England’s Paul Hunter and David Gray, Wales’ Matthew Stevens and Lee Walker, and Scotland’s Graeme Dott competed in the junior competition. They beat England 6-3; Scotland 7-2; lost to Wales 5-4, beat The Isle of Man 8-1; Northern Ireland 5-4. There was a three-way tie with Scotland and Wales at the end of the group matches, but the Irish boys won with two frames to spare ahead of Scotland)
The late John Cronin went onto win the tournament in Clondalkin that weekend, beating Jason Watson 5-4 in the final. The highest break of 118 went to Paul Ennis. I have to say I went home buzzing from that tournament, I knew I had to practice more and improve. All these players were Gods to me, and worlds apart from where I was, with some proudly wearing their dark green Irish waistcoats with a shamrock on it. I remember feeling then that it was probably something I would never be a part of but that didn’t make any difference. I loved it, and wanted to play more, and play in tournaments.
My daily routine was to get up early in the morning to play on the 6 x 3 snooker table at home and then every evening go down to the club without fail. I think I practiced without taking a week off from March 1992 to June 2003. Taking a day off would have been sinful in my messed-up mind as a young player, as it could come back to haunt you in a tournament. I couldn’t tape enough snooker on the telly for studying cue actions, nor buy enough books and the Pot Black magazine to read about the game. School came second.
You were guaranteed a game every evening without fail. Solo practice was very limited, and the bits we did do were a standard straight line up or scattering balls around and pot, with a straight blue into the corner pockets the choice for long potting practice. I think everyone was the same. You listened to the older local crew giving you instructions about certain shots. They weren’t coaches, but more like caddies almost. As we got older, we improved on the solo practice side of things. I think from that you became a shot-maker of sorts.
Later on, that season, I played with the old Liam Mellows club in Grogan’s Road to compete in the Wexford League. That kept me going. Then Marty Hayden got me to go down to the 147 Club to play by endorsing that club with this “come down and pick up balls for the best players”. A lot of great players played there and they were not afraid to torture you on the table. I was a socially awkward, shy, quiet kid going into an adult’s world. This was a club that in the late 80s would beat an Irish Select team twice and were finalists in the All-Ireland Club Championships in 1991. It had strength in depth aplenty. I would liken it to a Philadelphian Gym – no sparring – they wanted an all-out war in their practice games. Even the regular top lads couldn’t rest on their laurels. They might be beaten and they could be beaten, but this wouldn’t go down too well with the hierarchy.
Another area in which snooker clubs and boxing gyms would be very similar was the amount of good they did for youngsters in terms of learning how to get on with people, and showing manners and respect to each other. It definitely brought me out of myself and I found I could talk to people, whereas before I couldn’t. (I went to a speech therapist for 13/14 years, till I called it a day when I was 16). For those that didn’t have the manners or the respect, they were quickly told to buck up their attitude. They learnt that much or they didn’t go far in the game. They were quickly found out and left by the wayside. It mightn’t be a physical game, but it’s an adult’s game that has no time for the childish tendencies of trying to put lads off, sulking or deceit. The balls would know.
This was brilliant for me, as with so many great players in the 147 who, although may not have been of national notoriety, knew the game inside out, and I soaked it up like a sponge. Every so often you would see the likes of John Buckley and Michael Nolan coming down and playing against the likes of Joe Delaney, Phillip Siggins and Kevin Kehoe and sharpening their skills. A season later I joined them, and played with them, firstly in the domestic County League and then a season after that for the Killarney qualifiers.
In the inter-provincials later that season, Ulster and Munster played out a dead heat after two wins and a draw. It was decided to have a one frame play off between 5 players. Ulster won the event.
Something major happened on Sunday 31st January 1993. BBC Wales were showing the Regal Welsh Open. Irishman Ken Doherty beat Alan McManus 9-7 in the final to win the title and £27,500 first prize and trophy. This would make up for the Rothmans Grand Prix final the previous October 1992 when Ken lost out to Jimmy White by the odd frame in the 19 -frame final. He was to make up for disappointment of losing to Englishman Shaun Mellish in the qualifying round for the Crucible when Stephen O’Connor was the lone Republic representative sharing honours with Northern Ireland’s Joe Swail, losing to tough first round draws, John Parrott and Jimmy White respectively. Doherty finished off the season with wins at the Pontins Professional, and Irish Professional Championships. He also got off to a flyer the following season by winning the Regal Scottish Masters, again overcoming Alan McManus. This time he came through 10-9 after being 4-0 down. Amazingly, he was 31 down with one red on the table against James Wattana in his first match, when Wattana potted a black to get to yellow but he went in off it. Doherty also got to the final of the next event -the Skoda Grand Prix where he lost 9-6 to Peter Ebdon.
Later on, I played in February and March’s point tournaments held at the Ivy Rooms Carlow (won by Douglas Hogan); and the 147 Club Wexford (won by James Linehan). In both tournaments I was beaten in my first match. 170 odd entries came to Wexford. They had to start the matches at 4pm on a Friday afternoon for that one. My dad couldn’t come to every tournament with me, so the older locals kept an eye on me. Back then at the point tournaments, there was a big drinking culture at weekends. Remember these were working class lads getting away for a weekend every once in a while. Not everyone could afford to play all the point tournaments, so in a sense it was a great occasion to play in these events.
Whether it be Finnegan’s in Carlow, The Goal Bar in Wexford, Greyhound Bar in Tralee, The Showboat Bar in Waterford, The Jenson Hotel in Clondalkin or wherever it was, all the bars and hotels sponsored the highest break, a pound per point. There was always something going on between the mix of champions, contenders, officials, friends, partners, wives, characters, spoofers and bluffers. Some were there for the snooker – others just wanted a good time, with many pranks played on lads (too many to mention). There was usually some kind of mischief going on, e.g., drink, a few laughs and a sing song, or gambling on a game of cards, horses or football – Leeds were defending champions at the start of the Premier League in August 1992.
On occasion, there would be a boxing world title fight, with ‘The Big Fight’ on ITV, who seemed to have a lot of the big fights that time. This was the Eubank- Benn era, and was just a couple of years shy of Sky and the Prince Naseem years.
For all the drink that would be taken, there were very few fights, if any – differences of opinion, yes, but never any fisticuffs that I can remember.
There were a lot of Friday night champions when players would play excellent snooker, but tournaments were over two and a half days. Many a player found himself on the scrap heap and exited the tournament while nursing a hangover on a Saturday morning. Others could play through the hangover: I think everyone got something out of the weekends. You made the best of it: for me it was looking at games of snooker, and if I couldn’t play, I would try to referee to get some of my entry fee of fifteen punts back, as you were there for the weekend. If I wasn’t refereeing, I would just watch the better players and the local Wexford lads.
Accommodation was haphazard and comical at times. Sometimes you would have 5 or 6 lads staying in a double room to cut down on costs. Many a floor I slept on! There were a lot of hotel managers and hotel porters to be side stepped.
One night I slept down in the old Ivy Rooms Club’s basement beside the snooker tables with the Wexford lads for company. I felt it was a rock n’ roll world met the artful dodger with a snooker cue. Before you feel too sorry for me, don’t -“that snooker corrupted him”. I was reared in a pub well before I was playing points tournaments, with my father bringing me along to places where I marked a dart board, played snooker with adults and could play poker all before reaching double figures in age.
Parents wouldn’t let their offspring do any of this now, but times were different and freer back then. I didn’t turn out too bad. I loved it all. I was street wise in my mid-teens, drinking my lemonade or coke at tournaments while listening to hardened drinkers about life.
I missed the Murphy’s All Ireland Club Championships held in Gleneagles, Co Kerry that season. I didn’t go down to watch (the following year I went down to watch to see what all the fuss was about). It was the mecca of Irish Amateur Snooker at the time, with 16 teams qualifying for the finals and 10 tables going non-stop. It was the third year of the event, previously won by Kennedy Way from Belfast in 1991 and Embassy from Navan the previous year. This year saw a Lurgan club from Armagh win, with Parkside beating Dublin side Tallaght, 3 matches to 0 in the finals. The highest break of the event went to Paul Ennis with 139. It wouldn’t be the last time Parkside would win it, as they made the event their own in the mid 90’s.
I can’t remember the exact time, but I do remember hopping on a bus around March or April in ‘93 with a couple of Wexford youngsters, Graham Scallan and Eamon Lowney, to play in the Showboat, Waterford. They were hosting the Irish Under 19 Championships. There were 50 or 60 odd entries for the event. I won a few games, but then I played the number one seed James Linehan and he beat me 2-0 in the last 16. Naas’ Cameron Fidgeon won the tournament, beating Laois’ Damian McCormack 3-2 in the final. Damian’s moment in the sun would come not too after, when in November of that year, he came from 4-1 down to beat Wexford’s Joe Delaney 5-4 in the Munster Open in Tralee.
National Under-14, 16 and 17 snooker was dominated by Monkstown’s Robert Murphy. He defeated TJ Dowling 3-0 in the Under 14 final and beat Michael Nolan from New Ross in two other finals: 3-1 in the under 16 final, and 3-0 in the under 17 final. Also kicking around those years was Galway’s Michael Mullen, while a Belfast accent could be heard on the Kildare and Irish scene – Martin McCrudden.
The junior team for the following season’s Junior Home Internationals was made up of Robert Murphy, TJ Dowling, Michael Nolan and Joe Robinson from Athy. Dermot Dalton for the previous and upcoming years would host the ‘Stars of the Future’ tournaments held in the Castle, Drimnagh, Dublin, at the end of each season for the different age categories.
I had to play in the Irish Championships that season in my local 147 club, using it as a Wexford town zone with 18 entries. If you weren’t in the top 64, you would have to play and fight through the zones. I failed to qualify, losing in the last eight to former County Champion Philip Siggins 3-2 in a hard-fought game. Philip was player of the Tournament in 1991 in the All-Ireland Club Championships. I wasn’t too disappointed as I felt my game was improving. I pushed Philip hard, as he was house champion of the 147 club at the time. Philip, Tommy Mahoney and John Connolly qualified that day from the 147 club zone. Later on, that year Philip, reached the Leinster Close final, losing to Colm Gilcreest 4-2 in the final held in the Castle, Drimnagh again.
I played three local competitions throughout the season, reaching the quarter finals of the 147 Club Championship where I bowed out to Kevin Kehoe 3-0. Phillip Siggins beat John Connolly 4-3 in the final, coming from 3-1 down. It showed the standard of the club when the last 4 was Phillip, John, Kevin Kehoe and Marty Hayden, with no Joe Delaney, who Marty had beaten 3-2 in the quarter finals.
I also played in the County Championships but I can’t remember who I lost to in that. Kevin Kehoe won the county championships that year held in Commercial Club, New Ross. Then, the local CYMS ran a local 32-man tournament on the weekend before the Irish Amateur Championships. I reached the quarter finals, before bowing out to tournament runner up Tommy Mahoney 2-0. Robert Brady from the Ambassador Club in Enniscorthy took the title.
The last 128 stage of the Guinness Irish Championship was held in Q’s Clondalkin and was a full dress with bow tie occasion. This was played down to the last 16 at this venue. Colm Gilcreest had just turned 19 years of age, and he would go on to win the Irish Championship finals held in the Metropole Hotel in Cork, coming from 5 nil down to defeat reigning champion Jason Watson 8-7 in a great and tense final.
He also finished number one in the Irish Amateur Rankings, with Cork man Paul O’Donoghue number two; Wexford’s Joe Delaney three; and Tipperary man Tom Gleeson completing the top 4. Colm and Paul would then go to Karachi, Pakistan for the World Amateur Championships, but both failed to go beyond the group stages.
In the lead up to the World event, Colm won the Dublin Masters in Q’s, Clondalkin and the Hoffman’s Pro-Am in the Showboat, Waterford. He lost the All-Ireland Championship to Northern Ireland Champion, Patrick Wallace 5-2 in The Embassy, Navan. Wallace beat the record break of 117 set by Alex Higgins in 1968 with a 128.
Colm finished 5th and Paul 4th respectively in their groups, with only the top two coming through. Patrick Wallace of Northern Ireland made the semi-finals, with the title claimed by Tai Pichit of Thailand. The two Irish boys struggled with food and sickness which was a pity. For anyone who has never been internationally in countries where their dietary delicacies are not to your liking, the two-week events back then could be torture mentally, as your find yourself losing weight by the day. Playing snooker is the easy bit, but you might have shed a stone to a stone and a half by the time you arrived back home. As Eugene Hughes used to say, ‘pack the suitcase with biscuits and crisps, anything to keep you going’. Colm and Paul finished off the year in a final against each other in the Perrot Club; the last ranking point tournament ever in the club, with the Corkman taking the spoils 5-4.
Julie Kelly beat Jean McGregor in the Irish Ladies final, and Mick Kane beat Mick Kelly to take the Irish Senior Championships.
A couple of descriptions now of Irish Amateur snooker players in 1992 and 1993 that I would have both come across and watched (apologies in advance – I can’t include everyone: there were a lot of players).
Colm Gilcreest : Great player. I only really started to get know him in the 2000s. I watched from a distance back in 1993. I can clearly remember him playing James Lenihan in the final in Wexford. John Parrott said it best when describing Gillers, after narrowly beating him 5-4 in the last 64 of the 1998 Grand Prix – “that man is like a left-handed Alan McManus!” He plays a different game now to back then. He’s all-out attack now, but back then he fought you for every ball while still keeping his natural flair. What he did back in 1993 by winning the championships against Jason Watson was a big surprise to everyone. But he has always being quality, a fact confirmed by his wins at the Embassy Navan and the All-Ireland Club Championships in Killarney in 1992. He turned professional in 1994, and his best ever results were getting to the quarter finals of the 1999 Benson and Hedges Championship; and the last 32 of the Irish Masters ( a ranking point tournament) held in City West in 2004, where he went down by 5-0 to Graeme Dott.
He came agonizingly close to qualifying for the Crucible in 1999 when he reached the final qualifying round before losing to Billy Snaddon 10-6. He was also very well respected in England where he practiced with Neal Foulds and Alfie Burden in Ealing, West London. I saw this in the 2001/02 season when there was an Open Tour and Colm was beating 98 per cent of opponents on the tour which earned him his tour card again.
In 2008, he got to the final of the World Amateur Championship in Austria, losing out to Thepicaya Un Nooh from Thailand 11-7. Gillers was a serious player with a natural ability for any shot on the table. If you want a good practice session, go up to Cormeen, Moynalty, everyone got their backsides handed to them up there! But gone are the days when himself and Linehan use to play 5 best of 9 frame sets a day!!!!! A top class lad as well.
Tom Gleeson – First time I ever heard his name was when he beat John Buckley 5-4 in the quarter finals of the 1992 Guinness Irish Amateur Championships in the Royal Hotel, Dublin. From then on, he became a household name with ranking point tournament wins, and always was at the business end of Irish Championships, as well being on Irish teams. A great shot maker who followed his boyhood hero Jimmy White, with long straight screw backs while not over hitting the white at the same time. There was a sweetness about his ball striking. An out and out competitor, it was no surprise that in 1995 he became Irish Amateur Champion and Irish number one, occupying top spot again in 1999. He won many a ranking points tournament. I can recall him winning an Easter Pro-Am as well in 1999, when he had a rich reign of form for two to three months winning everything. A class snooker player, with the common touch among his competitors. He acknowledged and said hello to everyone – a truly class person.
James Linehan – 1993 was the year that James came to prominence as a 17-year-old when he won January and March’s point tournaments: the Cork Open held in the Pyramid Club, and the Leinster Open held in the 147 Club Wexford respectively. Building on from the Irish junior run at the Home Internationals in Cardiff, Wales the previous September, the Corkman went from strength to strength as a senior player. He oozed confidence, and was a great potter and break builder. He was also one of the first to use an overhanging tip. He went to Blackpool in the summer of 1994, and from then on tried to move up the rankings on the pro circuit, the challenge tour and then back amateur. You couldn’t take him lightly; a popular lad wherever he went, regardless of club or country, and I remember he loved to practice.
John Farrell – Talking about solo practice lovers, John was one of the best. He always had the eye on the practice table at tournaments and in his original clubs at Monkstown and Dun Laoghaire Premier. He was a gifted player around the black, he showed this in 1998 when he scored two tournament maximums within 6 weeks of each other, firstly at the Leinster Close at Celbridge Snooker Club and then at De La Salle Open in De La Salle, Waterford. A great tournament and money player, I remember him winning back-to-back point tournaments in Galway and Tralee in 1994. He could be quite temperamental, but if the head was right, you would want him with you on your team, no question. I remember looking at John practising for a match and clearly saying to myself that that was what I had to do – get in early and practice and make sure your eye is always in.
Joe Delaney (Wexford) – A great player and competitor. A five or six hours a day man when it came to practice, but he hated practicing alone. He was the one that raised Wexford town standards when he came home from Cardiff in the mid-1980s. He was coming to a town that had rarely seen a century, but before the first afternoon was over, he had a 124 marked up. Shortly afterwards, Wexford snooker exploded with a higher standard than ever, and there was a younger 1980s generation that practiced with him and improved their own games, even managing to beat Joe at times.
I picked up balls for Joe for a few years. He wasn’t a natural teacher, but as you were picking up balls you might as well concentrate on what he’s doing with the white. It took me a long time to master this new game of hit and run snooker. This was guerrilla warfare compared to the openness of my game. This wasn’t what snooker was about I stupidly thought. It was about potting and big breaks. Joe was the first person to show me you didn’t have to play well to win a snooker match. “Get the object ball safe and make sure of the easy ones” was his mantra. He could scrap away and win. He was an Alex Higgins man and he used to go crazy with side, but it harmed him on the new cloths at tournaments. Despite this, he was very consistent in points tournaments, Irish ranking events and was an Irish team regular off and on from 1989 to 2003. He should have won more I felt, but lacked confidence in himself. Then again, a lot of us were in the same boat – the dreaded ‘could have won more’ report. In my opinion, his greatest win came in 1998 when he won the Leinster Open in the 147 club Wexford, which was a hard thing to do in your home points tournament.
There were other great players later on in the 1990s but as I said I will leave out describing the likes of Paul Dowling, Mick Kane, the late John Cronin, Joe Canny, Mark Dooley, Garry Hardiman, Stan Murphy, Robert Murphy, TJ Dowling, Eugene Hughes, Nigel Power, Flann Hayes, Billy O’Neill, Damien McCormack, Douglas Hogan and Carl Murphy to name a few. I haven’t forgotten how good they were. They were powerful players.
Finally, something that caught my imagination in September 1993 was when the Irish team won their first ever Senior Home Internationals in Blackpool on the practice tables that the professionals used for the previous few months. (The Riley Aristocrat had just replaced the BCE Westbury table). The team consisted of Irish Champion from Meath, Colm Gilcreest; Irish number one from Cork, Paul O’Donoghue, also from Cork, James Linehan; Wicklow’s Jason Watson; Dublin’s John Farrell; Tipperary’s Tom Gleeson and the two Wexford men, John Buckley and Joe Delaney. With the team managed by Dublin man, Mick Kelly, it was a great win. When you’re fifteen and you’re looking at a player from your club, Joe Delaney, bringing home the Prince of Wales shield, it was just mind blowing.
I always knew that team were brilliant snooker players, but these lads were beating the best in the British Isles and Northern Ireland. There was a great buzz in the club. Every day results were coming in, and it built to a crescendo as the final result came in. What a great achievement and what an honour it was for them. They drew with Wales 9-9; beat Northern Ireland 11-7; hammered the Isle of Man 18-0; overcame Scotland 12-6 and England 11-7. The highest break of 81 went to Elfred Evans from Wales.
Half of the team would turn professional the following year in Blackpool, with Paul, John, James and Colm taking the plunge. It would be fair to say that Colm fared best.
It gave me great inspiration and motivation, and on 28th September 1993, I knocked in my first ton – exactly 100 on table 6 in the 147 club against the late Deckie Waters RIP.
Jumping ahead through the 90’s, I was one of the lucky ones who got to see a lot of tournaments thanks to the many lifts I got, especially in the early years from Joe Delaney, Pat Furlong, Marty Hayden, Mick Farrell, Phillip Siggins, Larry Codd and my late Dad (apologies if I have forgotten anybody) . There was sponsorship too, from Paul Roche briefly, and Pat Furlong for a lot of suffering years on his part, I have to say a big thank you! Without their help, I would have seen nothing and would not have been able to tell any of the above.
Great days back in the years of 1992 and 1993. I hope I brought back a few memories for people who were involved the game back then. Mind yourselves.
SBI would like to thank Rodney for doing this beautiful article and if any other SBI member would like to do something similar they can email email@example.com.
Stay Safe Everyone and hopefully we will all be back on the table again soon to make even more memories.