On Wednesday night in Cork, a crowd came to see two Legends of Snooker at the KDC Promotions event and instead were treated to four, plus one, plus a little one!
Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry were due to play a five frame match, but were kept waiting in their rooms at the Rochestown Park Hotel, “staring at four walls” as Davis later joked, while Greg Casey of The Crucible club in Cork city and T.J. Dowling of Terry Rogers club, Dublin put on a great show for a full to capacity crowd of snooker enthusiasts.
Casey and Dowling played best of nine frames in a winner takes all format, refereed by the ever popular and highly respected Don O’Donoghue. Dowling seemed to settle into the match quicker than Casey, who was perhaps feeling the pressure from the home crowd. Dowling took the first two frames which, even though scrappy, showed huge signs of talent in break-building and safety play from both players.
Left-handed Casey got off to a flying start in the third frame with a break of 40, and even though Dowling almost managed to steal it, Casey hit a sensational pot on the pink to get on the scoreboard.
Both players demonstrated excellent safety play in the fourth frame and Casey had found his rhythm at this point, showcasing perfect positional play to tie 2-2.
As Casey cleared the pink to lead 3-2 as the shouts of ‘Come on Greg’ were getting louder from the home supporters and, after trading tense frames to take it to 4-4, it came down to the final frame. The organisers ensured that the excitement was heightened as the announcer reminded the very knowledgeable and respectful crowd of the €5,000 prize at stake.
The final frame epitomises why I love snooker and why I hope the sport continues to grow. It had everything – flukes, in-offs, breaks, safety and, yes, even snooker. The crowd had watched these two amateurs go head-to-head for almost four hours and nobody was complaining, nobody was whinging or impatient to see Davis and Hendry and everybody recognised the effort of both players and that neither deserved to lose.
Nevertheless this is sport, and Casey got first blood in the decider but with pink and black tied up, his options were limited so he played safe. The excitement intensified with both players missing shots and Dowling raising his arms in protest having missed the blue off the spot – maybe he got a kick or he may have been distracted by the, by now, electric crowd. In the end, it all came down to the final red and it must be said that both had their chances. But when Casey knocked the red over the green pocket, Dowling’s attempt at keeping it safe failed and the handshake finally came Casey’s way to the delight of the home crowd.
The holders of VIP tickets got their chance to meet Davis and Hendry before they took to the table. I was lucky enough to be able to have a chat with Davis who seems to be an eternally pleasant, gentlemanly professional who thoroughly understands the importance of meeting and greeting the fans in an effort to support and promote the great game of snooker.
When asked for his thoughts on Barry Hearn’s globalisation of the sport he nostalgically compared snooker from his heyday to the modern game, saying that the ‘regime’ is now so much different – five or six tournaments used to be the maximum to be played in a year but ‘nowadays, the players don’t have time to piss’. Charmingly put, but he sees the positives in Barry Hearn’s changes…then again, I suppose he would, given their friendship and player-manager relationship spanning decades.
He gave great insight into the topic of who will step up to the mark and challenge Ronnie, in general, and at the upcoming World Championship saying that ‘the players fear Ronnie’ and because of that ‘they change the way they play against him’. For Davis, then, the psychological aspect is what the players need to re-address. Even though he didn’t want to name too many names, he did, however, name Judd Trump as a player who always has a chance. As for the World Championship being Ronnie’s for the taking, he said “it depends which Ronnie turns up”. And that, of course, sums it all up quite nicely.
Because the Casey-Dowling match had run over, Hendry and Davis played three frames instead of five. It was a relaxed affair with interactions with the crowd and Hendry taking the balls from the pockets in two of the frames to signify that he had had enough anyway.
This gave time for a charity auction for one member of the audience to play one frame against their choice of Davis or Hendry. €170 euro was the top bid for this opportunity, with the money going to Cork Blood Bike. Enter legend of the evening number five, Martin McCrudden of Celbridge snooker club, a multiple winner of the national amateur championship. He chose Hendry as his opponent and McCrudden hit a quick-fire break of 70 and made it look all too easy, to leave Hendry gobsmacked and the crowd utterly thrilled.
To finish off the evening, Davis played a few trick shots while entertaining the crowd by reminiscing about the 1980’s, joking about the time he won a Lada for hitting the first televised 147, mocking ‘the two Ronnie’s’ as well as Stephen Lee’s weight. He missed a few of the trick shots but called upon a young lad named James, knee-high to a grass-hopper but with a solid cue action as if he had been playing as long as Davis, to help with one trick shot. This guy was the sixth little legend of the evening, as Davis set up the black, circled by reds around the pink spot and told the kid to pot the black to centre…it was the best shot of the night!
All in all the night was a great snooker success, for KDC Promotions, the players and fans alike.
If you missed the event, check out Pundit Arena on Facebook for your chance to win a Pundit Arena t-shirt and hurley signed by both Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.
A special thanks to Seán Burns of The Crucible Snooker club in Cork city for taking my photograph with Davis and Hendry.
Pundit Arena, Tina McCarthy.