While the new tour structure may have helped some of the younger players in the sport to climb up the rankings, it has also helped to hasten the slide of some of the more experienced players who have been relegated from the circuit this summer. Click below for my look at some of the bigger names to have fallen off the tour after 2010/11…
It had been coming for some time but one of the first men to be relegated from the main tour at the end of the season was Ireland’s Michael Judge, a professional of 20 years who spent three of those years ranked inside the top 32, most recently in 2008/9. Peaking at number 24, his best performances came early in the last decade as he reached the semi-finals of the Grand Prix back in 2004 before losing to Ian McCulloch, while he was also a member of the Republic of Ireland team which reached the final of the 2001 Nations Cup.
More recently however he has found success harder to come by, dropping 16 places down the rankings at the end of the 2009/10 season having qualified for only one venue, while last season he won just one match during the season’s seven major tournaments, meaning that he would drop 37 places to 89th in the rankings at the end of the campaign.
Having chosen not to enter the Q School will Michael be back? At present it would appear unlikely but while he is 36 years of age now, so too are Mark Williams and John Higgins who are currently the two strongest players in the game. Perhaps as some other players have found, Tony Drago and Alfie Burden among others, a year away from the professional circuit could see him recapture his lust for the game that would appear to have been lacking during the last 12 months.
Another player also hoping to rediscover his thirst for the rigours of the professional circuit is Stuart Pettman who following a similar dip in fortunes was relegated from the tour this season. Having reached the semi-finals of the China Open as recently as 2009 as well a career high ranking of 35, on the face of it Stuart’s demise would appear surprising.
Following two damaging defeats in front of the television cameras during 2010 however as well as the need to juggle his playing commitments with the running of his club the Elite, Stuart arrived at the conclusion early in 2010/11 that he needed a break from the circuit. You can read more about Stuart’s thoughts on the subject here during the interview that I carried out with him in March 2011.
Another long time professional to see his career come to an end was Welshman Paul Davies, a mainstay on the tour since the 1991/2 campaign. While he might have struggled to cling on to his place during the past decade, earlier in his career he was able to reach two ranking event semi-finals as well as once reaching the final of the Masters Qualifying tournament before losing to Andy Hicks.
He has since struggled however, his last appearance at a venue coming during the Welsh Open a couple of seasons ago and with the writing on the wall following his poor start to the PTC events last season, he chose not to enter the final few events of the season.
It was a similar story for Englishman Jimmy Michie who last season announced his retirement from the sport following defeat at the inaugural Snooker Shootout. Again Jimmy is another who has been a professional since the early 1990′s but has found it increasingly difficult to qualify for venues during recent years. Highlights of Jimmy’s career include his runs to the semi-finals of the 1999 British Open and 2002 LG Cup, as well as qualification for the Crucible back in 1996.
The World Championship was also to be the scene of a career highlight for Northern Ireland’s Patrick Wallace who famously made it through to the quarter-finals of the tournament back in 2001 before losing to countryman Joe Swail. Though he was able to win four matches to qualify for the venue stage of the UK Championship as recently as last season, a poor spell during the middle of the season together with limited success during the PTC was to see him relegated from the tour.
While he still has the ability to win matches on the professional circuit as demonstrated during his run at the World Championship qualifiers, he elected not to enter the season-ending Q School event and has now decided to move on from professional snooker.
Finally another experienced player to be relegated from the circuit is Ireland’s Joe Delaney who qualified for the Crucible back in 2007 with a series of impressive qualifying wins. Having retained his place on the tour during recent seasons, unfortunately for Joe his lack of wins during the PTC events was to prove his undoing in 2010/11.
Whether we will see these players back again remains to be seen, though with most of them aged around the 40 mark the likelihood has to be that many of them will have now played their last match in professional competition.
Who could struggle next season from the experienced group? Ian McCulloch stands out as the obvious candidate having just hung on this season in 63rd place, while Andy Hicks, Rod Lawler and particularly Adrian Gunnell are far from safe. Indeed given that Stuart Pettman began last season 35th, the likes of Alan McManus, Peter Lines and Tony Drago will have to win matches if their are to avoid a similarly steep drop…