It was a night of surprises and high drama in the Liberty Bar on South Main Street, Cork as the fifth ever Kenley Cup sponsored by Funmanway Adventure Land and M&P O’Sullivan Cash and Carry once again threw up a new winner.
‘The Feen from Rafeen’ Stephen Hurley, a former runner up, combined some exquisite pool with a chunk of good fortune to become the fifth champion in as many years, amazingly no player has ever been able to win the coveted trophy twice.
The first round fixture list was stacked with potential banana skins for the seeded players and straight off the bat defending champion David ‘Vigorous’ Drake was sent packing by Mark ‘The Salmon’ Drummond in a surprisingly scrappy affair. Another former champion Stephen ‘The Invigilator’ Leonard wasn’t long following Drake out of the tournament when Coachford’s favourite son John ‘Back to Baulk’ Buckley gained revenge for last year’s defeat and triumphed with a polished performance.
John ‘The Hammer’ Neville gave close friend Stephen ‘Cueball’ Corcoran an almighty scare before falling at the first hurdle for a fifth consecutive year. It was to be the same story for Peter ‘The Almighty’ Stubbs who battled valiantly against Edward ‘The Cat’ O’Callaghan but it was the latter who prevailed leaving Stubbs, much like Neville, still in search of his first Kenley Cup victory. Eóin ‘Snakebite’ Kennedy and Chris Dennehy made light work of Shane ‘Eazy T’ Thornhill and David ‘Irish Seasonal’ O’Mahony respectively before Stephen ‘Sushi’ Whyte emerged from the shadows to shock Dara ‘Bobby Dazzler’ Harrington, a man synonymous with grinding out hard fought victories from the most precarious of positions.
It looked like Diarmuid ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Dixon, Stryker’ Barry was going to finally rise to the occasion and fulfil his potential until an audacious chip shot from the soon to be champion Hurley sunk a colour and gave him perfect position on the black ball to progress with what was surely the greatest shot ever seen in the Kenley Cup.
With three of the bookmakers’ top four picks after exiting stage left it now had the feeling of a tournament that anyone could win and when Drummond produced an extremely composed display to defeat John Buckley there were murmurings that this could be the year for the classy cueist from Blackrock.
For the third time in Kenley Cup history Chris Dennehy and Eóin Kennedy were drawn together in the quarter-final with the ledger 2-0 in Kennedy’s favour however it was to be third time lucky for former champion Dennehy as he managed to hold his oft-maligned composure to come out on top with both players down to the black ball.
‘Sushi’ Whyte was bursting with an infectious exuberance as he approached the table for his first ever Kenley Cup quarter-final and despite a valiant display from seasoned pro O’Callaghan it was the dark horse who managed to progress to the best of three format of the semi finals. Hurley and Corcoran went back and forth in a match between two skilled potters but it was ‘The Feen from Rafeen’ who just showed superior cuing in order to come out on top in the South East Derby.
When the draw for the semi-finals threw up Mark Drummond versus Chris Dennehy it was noticeable that the demographic watching the Facebook live stream altered dramatically as more and more ladies tuned into to watch two of the finest fringes in Cork go head-to-head. It would be difficult to judge who brandished the better bazzer but on the green baize it was Dennehey’s craft and knowledge of how to get a win at all costs that saw ‘The Salmon’ come unstuck.
Hurley was raging hot favourite in his tie with Whyte and now had the backing of a vociferous and partisan South East crowd who had clearly been availing of the excellent offers at the bar. But Whyte was to silence them momentarily as he raced into a 1-0 lead and wasted no time in getting down to the black in frame two, expertly cutting it in only to see the cue ball ominously follow it into opposite pocket. The battle-hardened Hurley showed his nerve against his green-horn opponent but it was a case of beaten but unbowed for the extremely impressive Whyte who will take huge confidence away from his performance at this tournament.
The final saw a clash of personalities with the usually amiable and courteous Stephen Hurley up against the normally brash and arrogant Chris Dennehy but in a fascinating switch of juxtaposition Hurley began to taunt his opponent and urged his band of followers to increase the volume. By stark contrast Dennehy sat calmly upon his stool awaiting the break off.
When both players were summoned to the green baize for the final act of the night there was a refusal from both parties to shake hands. The character development was almost Shakespearean with Hurley now assuming the role of pantomime villain and Dennehy the vulnerable victim but it was the former champion Dennehy that raced into a 1-0 lead. Hurley opened frame two with his trademark slow break and never one to adhere to a pedestrian pace Dennehy smashed into the pack only for the black ball to predictably plummet straight into the corner pocket. It was 1-1 with frame two only requiring two shots.
In the final frame of the evening Hurley bedecked in a pink suit once again incited a hostile reaction from his army of followers as the partisan crowd spewed vitriolic insults towards Dennehy every time he approached the table. It was cagey as expected but in a nip and tuck affair Hurley dug deep to edge the final frame and lift the Kenley Cup.
On an emotionally charged night where Eóin Kennedy was presented with a Kenley Billiards Association Lifetime Achievement Award it felt that there was definitely a changing of the guard with some stalwarts of the game departing from the competition so early on but once again the Kenley Cup could neither be retained nor regained and the night belonged to Stephen Hurley who evolved from ‘The Feen From Rafeen’ into ‘The Pink Panther’ and the new bad guy of pool all in one night.
Much like former bad guy Mike O’Neill, Hurley will care little about what critics have to say about his antics as he reigns supreme as Kenley Cup champion for 2017.