The recent 6-Red World Championship saw 118 players from around the world descend upon Killarney to compete for the €10,000 top prize. One of them was former professional John McBride who has very kindly written a diary for PSB which documents his run in the competition. Click below for part one, with the second to follow on Sunday…
Monday 14th December – The Road to Killarney
Well, the time had come for me to make the 206 mile long trip down to Killarney in Co.Kerry, to the South West of Ireland from Co.Cavan, from the East coast of Ireland. I have my 2 litre bottle of water, a bottle of actimel, 20 Marlboro Red, a couple of banana’s & a Damian Dempsey CD to keep me company for my long trek ahead. 5 hours is the drive, so I’m told.
I’m leaving @ 12.30pm, hoping to arrive around 5.30 / 6pm at the latest, including a couple of stops. I’m in the ‘O’ group, with 5 players with the top 3 qualifying. Already my aim & target has been set, which is too qualify from the group. Only 4 months have passed since I entered this Tournament where I have been playing Snooker again, for the first time in 14 years. How good it feels.
I’m on the road about half an hour when I realised that I have forgotten my print out of the route planner. Doh ! After a short deliberation, knowing that I have to head in a south easterly direction, I use words that I become extremely familiar with me over the next 3 days, Trust Yourself. And so I do….
Not long after that, I’m seeing signs that I’m not familiar with, driving on roads that I’ve never been on before in my life. I quickly decide to ring my wife & ask “Where the hell am I?” Being originally from London, & my beautiful wife being a native of this lovely country, as with anything that I can never find, my wife will know where I am I’m sure of that. I try to call, driving on my hands free, no signal on my mobile phone, damn. I keep going & see a sign for Longford. I decide to stop, I need a toilet, badly, but more importantly, I need help. I stop in a petrol station in Longford & as ever with country people, they are very helpful, but I already know by their expressions, that after I have asked them for directions to Killarney, that I am a good 100 mile off course. I hope my long potting is not as bad I wonder to myself. With a shrug of the shoulders, my new friend tells me where to head for & gives me a point to point map. He explains the places I will be coming across & I quickly realise that I am going to end up in the west of Ireland, by visiting lovely places like Ennis, in Co.Clare, Loughrea & Ballinasloe in Co.Galway, where I then head for Limerick.
I already know who is in my group, including players of the calibre of the likes of Ricky Walden & Tony Drago. I think to myself that’s enough to occupy my mind. I buy a few things in the shop, crisps, more water, more Marlboro RED & some lotto, only because people will never guess if I win as I’m never ever in Longford. I thank my new friend & off I go with his words ringing in my ears “Your backside will be sore once you arrive. Slan Abhaile”. So off I go. Through Ennis, Loughrea, Ballinasloe & I finally reach Limerick, thinking that I can’t be that far away now. All of a sudden, I see my first sign for Killarney & I am horrified to read that it says 103km. Good golly miss Molly. I continue on & arrive @ just before 8pm. I check my mileage before I get out of my car, 287 miles. Well I’m here I tell myself. I get out of the car, stretch & think of the words my new friend said to me back in Longford. I agree he was right, but he failed to mention the pain in my head as well. I laugh. I check in to the hotel where the tournament is being held, which is the Gleneagles. Sort myself out in the room, ring my beautiful wife & son, to let them know that I’ve arrived safely. My wife laughs. Off to the players lounge I head.
One of the tournament organisers (Ray Power) recognises me as I walk in & greets me warmly. I ask Ray how he knew it was me, Am I the ugliest here? Ray laughs too, Ray looks at me as if to say, “Your better than that”. Ray goes onto tell me that a couple of Pro’s have had to pull out, one from my group, being Tony Drago, Shaun Murphy, Peter Ebdon amongst others have also pulled out & Ray also tells me that a lot of the Indian players have had problems picking up Visa’s for the trip from India to Ireland & couldn’t make the trip. I actually feel quite sad for them, as this would have been great for them to mix & play in, against Professionals & to test themselves against them as well. Ray goes onto explain to me that the affected players groups, will have to be re-drawn. Ray looks a bit embarrassed but having run competitions myself, I quickly try to put Ray at ease & tell him not to worry about it. Its now 9pm & I ask Ray when will I know who & when I will be playing? “About 10.30pm, but it might be later” Ray answers me. Guinness time me thinks. I pop back @11pm & Ray tells me that I am now in a group with Ken Doherty, who I’ll be playing first up @ 1.45pm on Tuesday, along with Leonard Shanahan @ 3.30pm, Shachar Ruberg @7.30pm, all on Tuesday, & Lee Gorton & Lewis Miles on Wednesday. I take a walk into the arena, have a look around, spot an empty table & run up to my room to grab my cue & come down & have a quick knock & feel of things. I’m playing for about 20 minutes when my mobile rings, its the owner of the club, Chris Singh, that I’ve just started practicing in, which is the Royal club in Navan, Co.Meath. Chris asks me how everything is, which I reply is fine, asks me who is there, when I tell him that Ken Doherty is practising on the table next to me, he asks me to put him on. I explain to Chris that I don’t know Ken. “Put Ken on say its Chris, tell him its me”. I walk over to Ken Doherty, who is in the process of speaking with Mike Hallett, cue in hand, & I apologise to them both for my interruption, & I say to Ken Doherty, “excuse me Ken, Chris is on the phone & would like to speak with you”. Ken looks at me, becomes the Gentleman he is & replies, Chris? Chris Henry?” “No” I say, “Chris Singh.” Ken takes the phone & says “Chris, how’s it going, you coming down?” After the conversation ended, which I stood back & tried not to listen too anymore, I take the phone back, smile, & continue on practising. 20 minutes later, I’m told by a lady that (Geraldine I later learn is the lady’s name) practice is over. While the lady is not looking, I quickly try out a few middle pocket pots & cushion pots on another table to see if they are in sync with the table I’ve just been practising on. They are. I learn these are the same tables that were used in the World Championship qualifying in Prestatyn. The pockets are not overtly tight, bigger that what I played on when I was a Pro back in the early 90′s, but not overtly generous either I quickly notice. The cloth, while there was not much grip, is lightening fast. My cue, a 22oz 8mm tip is not suited for these tables I quickly remember. Ok then I say to myself, touch, touch, touch is what this is about. I have another pint of Guinness, I have pints with Mike Hallett, Nigel Bond & Mark Joyce, all nice people & go to bed at 3am, aiming to be up for breakfast @ 10am as breakfast finishes @ 10.30am.
Tuesday 15th December – Your here John, get your tracksuit off Son, you’re on!
My alarm on my phone goes @10am. Quickly, Ken Doherty comes into my mind. Can I beat Ken Doherty on an empty stomach I ask myself? I then smile & ask myself, can I beat Ken Doherty full stop? I have a little chuckle to myself, tell myself to trust myself, hold your bottle, enjoy yourself & you’ll be fine. I reset my alarm to 12.30pm & roll over & fall back to sleep.
My alarm goes @ 12.30pm. I jump out of bed, have a quick look at my suit, touch it for luck & remind the suit that its got a job to do today to help me feel good. I have a quick wash, & pop downstairs to soak in the atmosphere. I call my wife & son. I get a few nice hellos from fellow players, which I am courteous too. Its now 1pm, 45 minutes till I play Ken. There has been some people on the BBC Snooker 606 website that have been saying nice words to me & I want them to know that their thoughts are appreciated & to acknowledge that. I find a spare internet terminal & login, €1 for 10 minutes. There are more well wishers. How kind they are to take the time to say so. In the 10 minutes allotted, I quickly thank them & also login to Twitter, where I am met with some nice words there as well. I find it great to read, I try to acknowledge best how words that will speak the truth with how their support makes me feel. I sit back, after my €1 has finished, I think, OK McBride, I say to myself, what’s your plans? I quickly decide that when I play Ken, I am going to be as respectful as I possibly can & play the Man in Snooker. No mind games, just play the balls, be respectful as I possibly can, & take it from there. Its now 1.15pm, I need my shower, oh how I rely on my showers. Nothing like them for channelling your thoughts. I shower & while doing so, thinking about what is ahead, I remember words from Andre Agassi’s book, which I read. He used to cry in the shower, psyche himself up for the challenge ahead. I do the same thing, apart from cry & quickly I find myself in prayer. I bless myself, thankful of this opportunity, think of my wife & son, oh how I wish they could be here with me & smile, feeling blessed with love of people & think “right, get yourself ready McBride, lets have some fun”.
I dress, I look good. I’ve already noticed that players are not wearing dickie bow’s. I keep mine in my jacket pocket in case Ken is wearing one. If he is, I’ll put mine on, if not, it’ll stay in my jacket pocket.
Its 1.40pm when I leave my hotel room & I make my way to the players lounge to sign in. Ken is standing there by the signing in table where you sign in. I think he’s done this on purpose to introduce himself & be the nice person he is. I sign in, “Ah, the tournament official says to me, your playing Ken Doherty” & looks back up at me. I smile back. I turn to Ken, who already has his right hand out. I take it, Its a warm tight grip handshake, the ones I like & Ken say’s “Nice to meet you John”. I acknowledge his warm greeting & add that it is a pleasure to play him. I don’t hang about. I ask which table we are playing on where I am told “table 13″. Table 13 I think, who’s going to be unlucky here I ask myself? No one John I quickly try & remove them negative thoughts from my mind. I quickly remind myself that playing Ken is the fun part, your hard work starts when this match finishes & your second match starts all the way through to when your 5th match finishes. I remind myself of the target I have set myself. I feel cool & walk out into the arena, its 1.45pm.
I walk around the arena looking for table 13 & I notice that Alex Higgins is playing on the TV table. I have a quick look at his cue action, he still taps away. I smile to myself again & think “what a man”. I carry on looking for table 13. I can’t find it. I look around for Ken Doherty, follow him if you can find him John I say to myself. No sign of Ken, no worries I say to myself, if he ain’t here, then we can’t play, so have patience. I still can’t find table 13, I start doubting myself & checking was it table 13 I heard? Again, I have to remind myself to trust myself. I continue to walk around, still no sign of table 13, I think of my wife, Cathy would know. I stop a tournament official. “Excuse me, can you let me know where table 13 is please?” “Table 13!” comes back the reply, “who you playing?” “Ken Doherty” I reply. “Ah”, says the tournament official, “your on the TV table” & points it out, though he doesn’t really need too, he’s just being helpful I think. I thank the official & chuckle to myself of all the tables I looked for, I didn’t look or expect to be on that table, table 13. But I am. I say a quick thanks to all that is good & decide to go over & watch the rest of the Alex Higgins v Brendan O’Donoghue match. I notice Alex is 2-0 down, twitching away. I start thinking of all the great moments the Man has brought into my front room while watching him play over the years. He goes 3-0 down, he’s playing poorly. He gets up, looks around, somehow bends down underneath the barrier, & walks into the crowd. Please Alex, I say to myself, don’t be mad, there will be people around here who would love to write & say negative things around you. I’m at the back, watching, dressed up to ‘the nines’. Alex walks up to people, looks at them directly, up close & personal, & keeps moving on. He’s heading in my direction, I’m looking, he’s getting closer. I say to myself, “please Alex, don’t come over to me”. He’s in front of me. I smile, he smiles back. I look him in the eyes & ask him if he’s all right? Alex says to me “Can you do me a favour please?” “If I can” I reply. He tells me “they’ve confiscated his drink & would I mind going to the bar for him?” “Of course not Alex, what do you need champ?” I reply. “Can you come with me please?” Alex says. Off I follow him, to his corner of the table. He takes out this sort of pocket diary, & writes on it, Havana Club, double, 2 bits of ice & a bottle of coke & his room number, 441. “Tell them its for Mr. Higgins, & if they want my signature” he whispers to me, would you mind paying & I’ll pay you back later?” “No problem champ” I reply. Alex asks me my name, “John McBride” I reply with a smile & a wink, we shake hands. Off I go to the bar, being sensitive to the request, ensuring, & worrying, that the 2 bits of ice are big enough. I bring the drink back. I stand there, up front & personal, he sees me, waves me over & says “Pour the coke in”. I hold the glass with the Havana Club, Double, as Alex pours the coke in. Alex tells me that they’ve already taken his pint of Guinness of him then asks me if the bar accepted his room number? “Please Alex”, I reply, “have this one on me champ please, genuine”. “Thanks John” comes Alex reply. I quickly remove myself from the scene, hoping my cue is still where I left it. It is. Alex loses the 4th frame, I feel for the man, I always did. He’s beat 4-0.
I notice Ken Doherty walking into the main arena TV table, I follow. The press are there, requesting photos of Alex Higgins & Ken Doherty together. Good luck to them I say to myself & smile. Alex looks up, stops everything. “Hold on” he says, I look, to see why. Alex points at me & says, “We’re not taking any photo’s unless my mate is in them”, he’s pointing at me. Alex waves me over, Ken Doherty looks over his shoulder at me, smiles, & waves me over too. I quickly feel quite happy, so I decide to stand beside Ken Doherty. The referee who was referring Alex’s match says “I’ll be in this”. I’m looking at Alex & Alex is looking at the referee & says, “Sod off, my mate John McBride is being in this, not you. John, come over here & stand beside me”. So over I go to stand beside Alex & Alex puts his arm around me, the press are clicking away. I smile back.
The show is over & now I’m playing Ken Doherty, how good is this I ask myself? The ref tosses the coin, Ken lets me call, which I do, & call heads. Its a tail. I shake Ken’s hand again, wish him a good game, as I always did with my opponents, & of we go. Quickly, I’m 31 behind, with one red left on the table & I haven’t potted a ball yet. We’re playing safe, attacking safe, spinning the cue ball around the table putting on a show. The back of my mind opens up, the negative part. “What if I don’t pot a ball?” I smile, tell myself to behave myself & to trust in myself. I’m loving it & I’m getting the impression Ken is too. This is no master plan from me, its playing Snooker against a Top, Top Pro, former World Champion, hitting some balls, & playing Snooker, against each other & enjoying a good game of Snooker. Ken leaves me a chance. The blue isn’t too far from the green spot, the green is on the baulk line cushion, the brown is just off its spot, yellow, pink & black are on their spots, so I say to myself, drag the red in, bounce it up for the blue, play the yellow the way it needs to be played, pot the green, pot the brown in the middle, pot the blue, screwing up for the pink, drop the black in & Bob’s your uncle. I hit the red like a dog, barely gets 6 inches up from the baulk like cushion. “You nutter” I say to myself as I walk around the table pondering whether I should play an impossible shot by taking the blue on, going around the back of the black back up for the green. Its on I tell myself. I have a look at the green, just of the cushion, shots I have practiced, & potted, many a time. Green means I can tie the frame. Not a bad start I say to myself. Punch the green in John I tell myself, up for the yellow, you practiced these last night & were potting 9 out of 10 of them. I think, yes, frame winning shot. I get down, still looking for the shot, I see it, remind myself to trust myself & hit it. I played it well. I drop on the yellow, everything goes I remind myself, I screw back for the green, screw back the green when I didn’t need too. I’m looking at the brown, really, I should bounce the brown in off 2 cushions for the blue. I think of bottle & think, drop the brown in, you know the cloths are like lightening, & you’ll be on the blue to screw up for the pink. Trust yourself. So I do. I barely hit the brown & watch it keep a straight line & drop in. I’ve landed dead straight on the blue. Oh dear I say to myself, reverse screw side time. I try & remember when the last time I played the shot to draw confidence from it? I can’t. I look at the shot again, thinking if I play the screw shot & let it bounce of the cushion, leave the cue ball green side of the blue, I can stun the pink in for the black. I get down on the shot. Straight away I can see Ken sitting behind the shot, watching, as you do. I look again at my point of striking the cue ball, no side, yep I say to myself, go. I hit it. A nice crisp sound of the back of the pocket greets me but as I look at the cue ball it doesn’t angle as I thought it would. I’m on the green side of the blue spot but well below it. I look at the shot, I know it. Pot the pink & screw the backside of the cue ball to pot the black in the same pocket. I’m down on the shot, I feel comfortable, play it John, trust yourself, so I do. I don’t see the pink going in but I hear the crisp sound of the pot & applause. I’m looking at the cue ball, it checks so much that it gently rolls over to the other side of the table so I pot the black in the other corner pocket. I genuinely could not have placed the cue ball with my hand any better. I glance at the scoreboard, something I only ever do when I have too, don’t ask me why. I need the black to tie. I can see the shot before getting down & playing it. I get down on the shot, I can still see it. This is in I say to myself, trust yourself. I aim for the middle of the pocket & hit it. It was always in. Another crisp sound. Tied frame. Now I really notice the crowd & I get a warm round of applause. As I walk back to my chair Ken Doherty says “Great clearance”. I look over at him, he’s looking back, I smile & say “Thanks.” There is nothing wrong with your bottle John McBride I remind myself while I await for the toss of the coin. The referee tosses the coin for the re-spotted black. I call heads, which I always do & win the toss & put Ken in. He plays the half ball safety where the cue ball & black ball are in a straight line with the pink spot both on opposite cushions. I’m looking wondering. I decide to ensure I get a good cue ball whereby I have to bounce the black over & back twice to sit behind the black spot putting lots of left hand side on the cue ball. As soon as I hit the cue ball its gone, damn this 8mm tip, its no good anymore I remind myself. I catch the black to thin, it bounces over towards me & I know its heading for the black pocket, will it jaw or drop, I’m looking, standing right behind it, watching it bounce of the cushion closest to me. I know straight away that if the line stays true, & the tables pockets are all the same, its in. It must have jawed & rattled the pocket on at least 4 occasions. A sudden ‘roar’ erupts, the black drops & I signal my apologies to Ken, who smiles back & look at the crowd who are clapping & cheering.
I’m sitting back in my chair & glance at the scoreboard. Ken Doherty 0-1 John McBride. I smile, knowing that this boy is going to be motivating himself to kick my butt big style. Why shouldn’t he? Its what Sport is all about. 2nd frame, my break. I practiced my 6 Reds break for all of what, 5 minutes. I genuinely thought that the shot was a glance of the reds. How wrong I was to be proved over my next few breaks. I broke off, the white landed between the baulk line & the cue ball. A bad shot never mind a bad break off. Ken was quickly on the mini-maximum, the 6 red max, a 75 break. He’s on 41 & I’m thinking how I would love for him to make it. I can see on the 6th red he’s too straight going by his body language. Knock it in Ken & leave yourself the long yellow Ken, I said to myself, sitting back, knowing its 1-1. Ken jaws the black at 100mph, finishes bang on the yellow. I concede, having already decided to play the man & show as much respect as I can.
I end up getting beat 4-1, no worries, no issue & as I concede the 5th frame & about to acknowledge Ken’s win, Ken says to me “John, that was an absolute pleasure”. I smile & say “Thanks Ken, best of luck in the rest of the comp & try & win it”.
I go & have a cigarette & head back to the players lounge.
I walk back in, told I am playing on table 8 & find it comfortably. My opponent is already there. His name is Leonard Shanahan, who I understand is an Irish International. Good Luck to him I say to myself. The refs tosses the coin, I call heads, & win the toss. I break. Once again the cue ball doesn’t dance to my tune. This time, even though this is the same table, coincidently that I practiced on the night before, just gets past the blue spot. I’ve left him on a straight red which he can either stun in for the pink, or follow through for the black. I know, that the easiest shot is to stun in for the pink but, if he misses, he’ll be questioning himself. He jaws the red. Leaves me in, I’m on 9, on the black, & play for the difficult red on the cushion. Don’t ask me why, but I did. I couldn’t have played it any better. I walk round & see a problem, that wasn’t there. I decide to stun run through the red with running side & jaw the red, the red doesn’t leave the pocket, it decides to live there. I’m on the black but its no good to me now. He pots, & pots, & pots & misses a frame ball brown. I take a quick look at him, he’s flustered. I think bottle trouble. I pot the brown, not on the blue, trust myself to drop the blue in to leave myself on the spotted Pink & Black, which I do. I’m 1-0 up, again. A big sigh comes from my opponent. He asks for a toilet break. Doesn’t confer with me, which he doesn’t have too I might add, & comes back, all be it 5 minutes later. I watch on in awe as he hammers me in the 2nd frame. This time, I have a toilet break. I go into the toilet, go & have a quick look at myself in the mirror, this is it John boy I say to myself, I come back & win the third frame, 2-1 up. He goes to the toilet. He doesn’t come back. All I can think is that he is having serious words with himself. He wins the next 3 frames on the black. That’s how close 6 Reds takes you, its all about bottle, of course with the main ingredient being skill. He looked so relieved, I smiled.
So, I say to myself, 2 matches gone, lost both, but I’m not bothered. I play Shachar Ruberg next. This time its on table 7. No issue. I sign in, start a bit late, around 8pm & I am introduced to Shachar Ruberg, where 3 camcorders are set up to film the match. The boy is just a kid I tell myself (I later learn he is 15 years of age). I look at him, smile, he doesn’t smile back. He’s nervous, I can see, but really nervous, I tell myself. I look at him while he is breaking, I won the toss but put him in. He’s not cueing right. I look at the cameras upon him & quickly agree that this young man is going to get taught a lesson, by me. I win 4-0. He had chances, but I cleared up every frame. I tried to talk to with the young man after. I found him a little naive. I suppose you are when you are 15, oh how I could help these young men play better if only they wanted to see more & trusted people, players, I thought. It his life, not mine. In fairness to Shachar, he didn’t play well. He gave me chances, & I took them, only because I had too.
So, my first day over. What a day. Played 3 matches, won 1 lost 2. Still in the running. As I was walking back to get changed, I had a quick look on the BBC Snooker 606 website & logged in again. More well wishers, how nice I thought. So sound of people to want to people they don’t even know, to do well. I put another €1 in again, replied & acknowledged & also had a quick look into Twitter. I started to notice that the same people were putting nice words my way on both sites. I acknowledged both sites.
I went up to my room, got changed, was in the bar for 11pm. I had a pint, on my own, a bit of thought with it, wondering should I kick it on with the beer or stay under the radar? I chose the latter. I went out into the arena, watched both Ken Doherty & Marco Fu practicing on their own, & sat back & kicked it back on their style. Very, very enjoyable to watch them both doing what I have done previously for thousands of hours. Two good Pro’s them Men, were the thoughts I took away from me. I had a couple of more pints, I was in bed around 1am, I was enjoying myself, but knew I was on the table at 12 noon. I rang my wife, shared the party, we laughed, told each other we loved each other, & I turned the lights out, safe in the knowledge that I was missed, my loved ones were pulling for me, & I had some hard work to do to meet my target. I set the alarm on my clock for 10am, this time asking the hotel receptionist to also call me. I promised myself this time round that I would get up when it went off. I went to sleep, happy.
Part Two to follow…