Guest Post: PTC Finals Put Ireland Back on Snooker Map

While much has been made of the success of the new Players Tour Championship this season which culminated in last week’s Grand Finals, it should also be noted that the event marked the long overdue return of big-time snooker to Ireland after a period in the wilderness. Click below for the thoughts of guest blogger David Caulfield who attended the tournament…

Shaun Murphy’s 4-0 victory over Martin Gould in the Players Tour Championship Grand Finals on Sunday concluded snooker’s overdue return to Ireland for the first time in six years.

Overall, the week in Dublin was a huge success, mirroring the impact the entire PTC series has had in the sport’s new era of reinvigoration.

In the six year gap, some snooker has been played on the island – notably the 2009 Six-red World Championship in Killarney and the Northern Ireland Trophy that ran for four years until 2008.

However, for whatever reason it has taken a significant length of time for a major event carrying ranking points to be played in the Republic of Ireland which is peculiar given the substantial level of interest for the game in the country.

Although ticket sales were perhaps a little on the low side at the beginning of the five-day tournament, the huge turnout over the weekend highlighted what potential there is.

Furthermore, there were perhaps a few reasons for the scarcity in crowds over the first couple of days.

The decision to base the tournament around St. Patrick’s Day was a risky one from the outset. With parades all over the county, the traditional drink-fest and, as it turned out, a beautiful spring day, it was maybe understandable that punters prefered to spend their annual day off outdoors (or in the pub, if indoors).

As well as this, the absence of some of the most famous players like John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Neil Robertson from the Grand Finals could have diminished people’s interest in attending the earlier rounds.

That said, by the end of play on Sunday the audience had taken beaten finalist Martin Gould to their hearts – the Irish ever ready to back an underdog – and his rise over the last 12 months perfectly reflects the reason the PTC series was initiated in the first place.

The 12 original events across England and mainland Europe gave those further down the rankings the opportunity to compete at the tail end of events while picking up healthy sums of money and ranking points along the way.

Gould himself has risen from 43rd in the rankings at the end of the 2009/2010 campaign to within touching distance of a berth in the elite Top 16 come the end of the upcoming World Championships.

The likes of Jack Lisowski and Jamie Jones gained invaluable experience playing in front of television cameras – something that simply would not have existed for lower ranked younger cueists throughout the last decade.

The crowds grew in large numbers for Saturday’s quarter-finals, competing well with the unusual decision to show the final bout of 6-Nations matches in The Helix foyet, while those who chose the green baize were treated to an outstanding evening’s entertainment with back-to-back 4-3 thrillers.

Indeed, Shaun Murphy hailed his comeback from 3-1 behind against Stephen Lee as one of the best in his career and obviously gave him the confidence he needed as he went on to win 11 frames on the trot to be the first man to raise the vase trophy aloft.

The atmosphere on the final day was something more associated with what you would see at a Gaelic games match in Croke Park or, of course, the rubgy at the Aviva Stadium.

In addition, the fact that the level of enthusiasm only increased as the day went on despite the fact that each of the semi-finals and the final itself produced very few big breaks underlined the eagerness for Irish fans to see professional snooker on a more regular basis.

753 people turned up for the final between Murphy and Gould, a number so great that the surrounding overhead balconies had to be opened to seat the overflow of excited viewers and created a cauldroned atmosphere that will hopefully become a permanent home for the sport in years to come.

Unfortunately, there were no home representatives in the event with Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien failing to accrue enough points on the Order of Merit to qualify, as was the case with Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen and Joe Swail.

Mimicking the lack of events in the country over the last number of years, there has been a shortage of emerging talent coming out of Ireland in recent times.

22 year-old David Morris appeared to be on the right track but has undergone a difficult season and is certain to have to go through Qualifying School if he wants to regain his place on the Main Tour next year.

There is no reason why the PTC Grand Finals should not return for a second staging in 2012 and become a permanent fixture on the calendar while it’s presence could hopefully invigorate a fresh batch of young talent from the Emerald Isle.