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Ken Doherty – Life in the Old Dog Yet!

Long-term readers of the blog will know that while I always try to remain as impartial as possible, one of my favourite players down the years has been Ireland’s Ken Doherty and at the recent PTC2 event I was therefore delighted to be able to sit down with him and have a chat for PSB. Click below to read what the 1997 world champion had to say…

PSB: First things first, congratulations on your run to the semi-finals in Australia, how did it feel to be back at the business end of a ranking event?

Ken Doherty: Yeah it was good, it has been a while! It has been a frustrating time the last few years because I know that there is still a lot of good snooker in me but it has only come out in fits and starts, never consistently enough.

My run in Australia was as good as I have played in a number of years. It was great to beat some of the really good players like Stephen Maguire, Liang Wenbo and then of course Mark Selby.

I was a little bit disappointed with the way I played in the semi-finals as I did get chances against Mark Williams who is currently playing at the top of his game, cueing beautifully and looking very composed and very confident when he is around the table. Apart from John Higgins he is probably the best player in the world at the moment, well he is, he’s number one in the rankings.

But yeah it was always going to be a tough game. We’ve had a lot of battles over the years but I was just disappointed that the chances that I did get, I just didn’t make enough of them like I did in my previous matches. But that’s just the way sometimes it goes but overall I think I was very happy with the way I played.

PSB: I know too that you had a great clearance against Mark Selby, one that you described after the match as one of the best in your professional career…

KD: Yeah that was to beat him 5-3 and was probably one of the best clearances that I have made in the 21 years that I have been a pro and that is saying something, I have made a few good ones in my time…

PSB: I remember one that you had against Graeme Dott one year at the Crucible to beat him in a decider…

KD: Yeah I’ve had some good ones but I think this one was probably one of the best because I was playing a top player who was coming back at me, I was 4-1 up and I’m 57 behind at 4-3 with four reds left and made four red-blacks, the last black to get up for the yellow to clear up. They were good shots, pressure shots and that’s what gives you great confidence you know and I’m cueing really nicely.

I went to the qualifiers last week and I couldn’t pot a ball for some reason. That’s the consistency that I’m missing but I know still that run to the semi-finals has given me confidence that there is still a good tournament left in me you know. I’m not going to be as consistent as I used to be but if I can get good runs like that in the odd tournament then I still think that I can possibly win one.

Ken, Mark Selby

PSB: In terms of the consistency not quite being what it was, do you think that is a natural thing with age or is it a lack of practice or something else?

KD: Yeah I think that it is a natural thing, it’s not practice as I still practice, but I think it’s a thing with age that you just have to realise that that’s just the way that it is going to be from now on and that I’m not going to be as consistent as John Higgins or Mark Williams or Mark Selby or players like that who are going to consistently get to the last 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and so on.

There are though only very few winners who are actually winning tournaments. It seems to be still the same old guard who are winning tournaments, Williams, Higgins and O’Sullivan in this day and age. Selby and Ali Carter are coming through, Shaun Murphy…but apart from that six, Ding as well of course…they are the consistent winners on the circuit these days so it’s going to be something to live up to, but they have set the standard and the rest of us have to achieve that standard.

PSB: So where do you think that you are with your game at the moment? A couple of years ago you had the nightmare year when you dropped out of the top 16, then you came back and had a much better year, then last year was more up and down…

KD: At the moment I feel, well I went out and played there today this morning and made two centuries (against Joe Meara), and it was like back to the old days but the test will be against Mark Williams now in the next round (Ken would win that match 4-3).

I feel calm and relaxed and I’m going to have bad days like I did against Anthony Hamilton at the Shanghai Masters qualifiers but overall I’m pretty happy where I am and the way I’m playing. The confidence is there.

Ken in action at the PTC2 2011

A few years ago I had no confidence, it was gone, completely gone, I felt like giving the game up that’s how bad it was but the confidence has returned. I am enjoying the challenges of these PTCs and the ranking tournaments that we have, the new sort of impetus that Barry Hearn has given which has given us all a bit of a boost.

Even if you have a bad result like last week you can just come to this tournament and try to make amends for it and if it doesn’t work here there is another one the next week and then the week after in Germany. There are plenty of opportunities to play now whereas a few years ago you would have one bad result, wait a month until you play another tournament and the pressure builds and builds. Now you can get over your results and if you get on a run you can keep it going so that certainly helps.

PSB: Yeah it’s fantastic what Barry has done, what do you think of the new rolling rankings system?

KD: I think that it is a great idea, I think it promotes recent form and anybody who has really good runs deserves…their ranking has to change instantly rather than having to wait a year for it to catch up. I think that is a really good idea.

PSB: What now at this stage of your career would you say the target is? You say you still want to win ranking events…

KD: For me…ok I would love to get back inside the 16…but at the same time I want to really make a mark in tournaments, that’s what does it for me, to try and make good runs to the semi-finals, final or even win a tournaments. That’s what I want to do, I want to win tournaments.

Will Ken be holding a trophy again soon?

I think I can win these PTCs. I look at the winners of the PTCs last year and I think most of those guys I think I could beat on any day you know what I mean? Whether I am playing at the top of my game or whether I’m not, I can still beat them so that gives me encouragement and that’s what I want to do, win PTCs, win ranking tournaments and progressively move up the rankings.

PSB: The last point on your game, compared to someone like say Peter Ebdon who has achieved a similar amount to you during your respective careers he has been able to maintain a higher position in the rankings. With your game in particular do you think that there has been any particular area with your game such as scoring that you have struggled with or is it purely a consistency thing?

KD: For me I was always a confidence player and I always oozed confidence when I was playing, the way I portrayed myself that way. But when I had that bad run, I fell out of the top 16 and lost to Wenbo…the confidence just drained from me.

I went back to the qualifiers and thought that I had been to Prestatyn a load of times, won a lot of pro-ams there, had a lot of success there as an amateur and a professional and I thought that it wasn’t going to bother me – but it was a real culture shock.

You are playing there and the guys that you are playing had become sort of accustomed to playing there, almost zoned as these cubicle players and they felt at home there and you were coming in like a fish out of water almost and it took me a while to get used to it.

The dreaded Pontin’s

Those first couple of seasons were very difficult, I dropped out of the top 32 even so that was quite difficult. I just couldn’t handle it and I thought I couldn’t keep playing like this, it’s either I’m going to start improving or I’m just going to finish and I didn’t want to finish. I thought that I still had a lot to offer. I had to prove to myself that I could compete with these guys and play to the level that I was accustomed to and slowly it came back, but I’ve still got a good way to go.

Results like in Australia show that I can still compete with these guys and hopefully I can see a little bit more of that consistency come into my game.

PSB: Looking back at your career to the peak years you managed to win one world title, reach UK finals, the Masters final…would you say that you are happy with what you have achieved so far?

KD: I don’t think that you are ever happy. I’ve lost in so many…ok I have won the World Championship, that’s what you dream of and it was fantastic but I don’t think I’ll ever be happy. I’ll always be a world champion, winning the world amateur championship was fantastic, and the junior championship great as well…

As a professional I think that you always want more, that you could have won more and I feel the same. I’ve lost in three UK finals, two World Championship finals, two Masters finals. I think I’ve lost in about 15 major finals so it could have been so much better you know. I’ve lost in 11 finals plus two Masters as well so it’s quite a lot so it’s disappointing, even if you were getting 50% of those then you would be happy.

PSB: Though when you look at the standard of opposition you were facing though!

KD: Yeah they were all top, top players, I didn’t lose to any mugs but that’s the way it goes you know.

PSB: From a fan perspective obviously 2003 was incredible when you went all the way to the final but I remember you saying when you won Malta that it took some time for you to get over.

KD: Oh yeah course it did. I think that was my most disappointing defeat from all those finals because I was playing so well to get to the final, the matches that I had like beating Shaun Murphy, Graeme Dott, John Higgins…I was 10-0 up against John Higgins you know, to have only beat him 13-8. I mean who would have thought that I could have been 10-0 up on John Higgins? After Stephen Hendry the greatest player that has ever played the game you know and then coming back from 15-9 to beat Hunter was amazing.

Even when I was 10-2 down against Williams to get it to 12-12, 16-16, it was an incredible run. It’s just that he beat me 10-9 in the UK final that season as well and it was just so heart-breaking to lose that World Championship and I think that had I won that tournament then it would have been one of the greatest world championships for me or anybody to win.

I played more frames than anybody so that would have been really the icing on the cake but it eluded me but at least I was involved in one of the greatest tournaments seen at the Crucible and that is something.

PSB: At the end of the 1990’s you had the ‘big four’ so to speak and then the likes of yourself, Ebdon, Lee, Stevens close behind…that standard that you had at the top eight, is that the best top eight that you have seen? I don’t know if that is just the way I see it because that was when I was growing up…

KD: I’ve been lucky in that I’ve played against some of the greatest players that have ever played the game. I’ve seen the best in Hendry, I’ve seen the most naturally gifted player ever to have played the game in O’Sullivan who I played when he was at his best and unplayable as well. I’ve played against the best all-round player in John Higgins and probably one of the most natural players as well Mark Williams. Those four players are probably the greatest of all-time.

Alex Higgins too was my hero, he was the most entertaining snooker player that ever lived and Jimmy White was up there as well. Steve Davis was up there, in his era he was fantastic. I played Steve when he was not quite at his best but close to it and I’ve learned so much from him as well so all those players like Hendry, Davis, Higgins, O’Sullivan, Williams and White.

I’ve played in a really great era of snooker. I played Alex Higgins as well but he wasn’t at his best, he was on the way down, but it was still great to play him. There was a buzz that the other players wouldn’t give you, so much drama, so much excitement and he really got the crowd going like no other player could get the crowd going and that was magic to play against, particularly playing him at Goffs at the Irish Masters or the World Championship.

But no I’ve been…unfortunate (laughs) to be involved in an era of great snooker but I’ve been blessed as well because I’ve played against the best and competed against them and beaten them all at some stage or another, in finals too not just in first or second rounds so that is quite satisfying you know.

Doing battle with the best

PSB: Would you say that the current top eight are doing anything that the top eight a decade or so ago weren’t doing. Obviously the depth now is just incredible…

KD: I don’t think that the standard at the top has got any better, it’s not any more than I’ve already seen but the standard all the way down has certainly grown, I think that there is no doubt about that. All the way down to the 96 every game is a tough game.

I think playing in some of these PTCs will be harder to win than some of these ranking tournaments because you are playing three matches a day and from round one you can have a difficult match, I mean I’ve got Mark Williams now in the second round you know what I mean?

If I win that I have got another tough match and these PTCs are a great leveller because there aren’t as many people watching so these guys won’t feel as much pressure, even the lower ranked players when they have got a couple of matches under their belt feel like they have got nothing to lose and can express themselves a little bit more.

In the ranking tournaments it’s a little bit more edgy for them so I think that some of these will be just as tough. If you come through and win one of these then you have played very, very well you know.

PSB: Did you enjoy the World Cup?

KD: I loved it, I loved it. It’s a great tournament, a tough format to play. Myself and Fergal get on really well together, had a good time together and we only lost one doubles match together and that was to Pakistan. But we loved the format but we felt that we could have played better.

Irish team-mate: Fergal O’Brien

Against China I got in first against Ding, made a 30 break and should have really made more and then when Fergal came back from five snookers he was very unlucky not to beat Liang Wenbo. Liang was very lucky to fluke the snooker against him leaving the brown over the middle, the blue over the corner and snooker him behind the pink you know. Had Fergal won that match then the momentum would have definitely swung in our favour and we could have won that match and Ireland could have easily won the World Cup.

China though were the best side in it, no doubt about that, they played really, really well and good luck to them, I was delighted for them, two nice lads.

PSB: Looking ahead you are doing a lot of TV work now, how do you find that?

KD: I love it, I really enjoy it. I love snooker, I love being around it and want to see the game improve and when I’m not playing in the tournaments…for me playing in the tournaments is priority but when I’m not playing I’d be sitting at home watching it anyway so I like to still be involved.

I like working with the BBC and I have a good laugh with John Parrott, Steve Davis and I have a great time going out for dinner with the likes of Dennis, Willie, John Virgo, Hazel and Rishi. We all get along really well; we all have a good laugh together.

There’s no competiveness, it’s just a really good bit of laugh, we take the piss out of each other and we get along really, really well. We go out for dinner every night and I’m with the older guys now but I’m still the young one in that old group! I still love being with them because they are great fun, Virgo and Dennis and Willie you know you can have great crack with them.

In front of the camera

PSB: Are you enjoying the commentary as well?

KD: I am enjoying the commentary yeah. I’m still sort of finding my feet a little, I don’t know whether I am any good at it but you know, compared to those guys I don’t think I’m any good but I’m still learning you know.

PSB: As obviously you have opened up the Academy now in Dublin…

KD: I’ve opened the Academy two months ago and funnily enough we were playing a Legends event in Goffs on the Sunday 29th May I think it was and I had arranged that if we do the opening on the day because we had come down from Belfast to play in Dundalk and then Dundalk to play in Goffs at the weekend and I said to all the boys like Virgo and Thorburn and Jimmy, Parrott, Kirk Stevens and Dennis that I was opening a club so can we go out there for a photo opportunity in the afternoon sometime and then we’ll go out to Goffs and play the exhibition and they said no problem so it was great killing two birds with one stone.

To have all those guys there, big crowds, just like invited guests and we had a big barbecue with music going on and all family and friends. I got my mum to cut the ribbon in front of all these guys and she didn’t know what has happening so that was a good surprise for her but it was nice, a great photo with all the boys in the background and me and my mum together and her cutting the ribbon so it was a fantastic day out.

Ken at his Academy

The place is doing really well. It’s nice and luxurious and I wanted somewhere that mothers and fathers wouldn’t feel that they would worry about their kids no matter what their age was, whether they were boys or girls coming into the place and that’s the sort of feel that you get from this kind of snooker club.

It’s not like the snooker club of yesteryear that had an old stigma attached that only delinquents would frequent. The club that I used to play in (Jason’s) was never like that anyway, they had a jukebox, pool table, Space Invaders machine, table football tables. It was a nice place to frequent but some of the clubs in the city centre weren’t like that at all. They were spit in the floor joints, you couldn’t see through the smoke you know to see who was in there but Jason’s was always nice and I wanted to recreate something along the Jason’s line but to an even better standard.

What I’ve seen overseas, my experience of travelling and seeing different clubs all over the world and I wanted a place that would have nice leather chairs, leather couches, a plasma screen at every table, Sky Sports at every table you know so they can keep up to date with the racing or the football or the golf or the rugby, that they weren’t missing out on that while shooting a few frames of snooker or pool and having a chat.

That’s the type of club that we have and a lot of mothers and fathers have been here, a lot of juniors coming in. Only yesterday I was there and they had an eight-year old there on his birthday and he wanted to go down and shoot a few frames of snooker with his mum and dad and his brother and they said they felt like leaving their kids playing there that they had no problem with that at all and that’s the kind of feel that I want from the club. I want a membership club where members felt like it was their club and they could find someone to play with.

Also with the Academy side, with the coaching side, using the national coach PJ Nolan that we want to give the opportunity to kids who might not like football or golf or rugby, may not like physical sports, that just like playing snooker and want to improve and have a facility there that they can use and get coaching, have some junior tournaments that will inspire them, get little medals or trophies. For me when I won little trophies as a kid they took pride of place on the mantelpiece you know but that’s what we are trying to achieve there as well. Hopefully it will be there for a while and we can produce another champion from the Republic of Ireland.

PSB: Are the any good young Irish players that we should be keeping an eye on? Obviously David Morris and Vinnie Muldoon are the best known…

KD: Yeah there are a few playing on the Irish circuit but those guys are kinda established now. I am looking for the next 8 or 10-year-old that walks in the door that shows me something that I haven’t seen for a while. When you get players in that age you can tell whether almost immediately that they have the right basics, the right cue action and they are the ones that I am looking for now, they are the ones that I want to bring on, develop, harness and make them into really top players.

PSB: How old were you when you started?

KD: I got a snooker table when I was eight but I started going into Jason’s from around 10 or 11.

Ken at the Northern Snooker Centre in 2009

PSB: Did you realise from an early stage that you had a knack for this? That you were good at it?

KD: Yeah when you are beating guys that are twice as old as you…you think that this is something that you are getting a buzz out of, when you are beating your two older brothers and then other guys in the club. I just took to it like a duck to water and I can see some of the younger kids that come into the club, they are starting off the right way.

I can see that some of them are quite natural so it’s about trying to let them be natural, not trying to hinder them with too much coaching, just let them play and enjoy it, every now and then a little whisper and to show them something that they can improve.

PSB: Is coaching something that you would like to get involved with?

KD: Yeah I would do, there is nothing worse than seeing a great talent wasted so if I can see someone that has the talent, try to give them as much encouragement as possible, try to coach them, nurture them, that’s what I would like to do.

My own son plays and he’s a natural at it! He’s only three and a half but I’ve got him a little cue his size but he’s driving my wife mad at the moment because all he wants to do is go to the snooker club with me rather than go to the park or go to the swings so he absolutely loves it. His cue arm is nice and straight already and he’s hitting balls and that is something that would give me a great buzz.

PSB: Have you got any tournaments coming up or anything at the Academy?

KD: We’ve got our first tournament next Sunday with a bus load of snooker players coming down from Westmeath which is about an hour and a half drive away and they came down one Sunday when the snooker club opened to see what it was like.

There was about ten of them and they hired a bus to come down and play in the snooker club so they are coming down next Sunday and I told them that I would run a little tournament and try and get as many players from the club to turn up on Sunday afternoon and they can play altogether in a tournament so that would be our first snooker tournament.

We are running pool tournaments now every Monday which is nice but were are going to run our first snooker tournament next Sunday from about 1pm or so.

PSB: Earlier in the interview you said that to you Stephen Hendry would be the greatest player of all time with John Higgins behind, is that how you see it?

KD: Yeah without doubt. I think that Hendry is the best player that I have ever played and that his record speaks for itself. Unless somebody wins eight World Championships then he will always be regarded as the best. He influenced the likes of Higgins and Williams and O’Sullivan and everyone that has come along since so there is no doubt about that. And David before that would probably have influenced Hendry.

But there’s no doubt that nobody has ever played as well against me as Hendry did in that UK final with seven centuries in ten frames, nobody has ever played as well as that…

The best – Stephen Hendry

PSB: And it was still only 10-6 wasn’t it!

KD: Yeah he was 7-5 up and had six centuries but nobody has ever played that well against me and I have never seen anybody play that well. I did see O’Sullivan play something to a standard like that but he didn’t get all those centuries. I saw him play against Hendry at the semi-finals of the World Championship one year and he destroyed Hendry and he played some of the best snooker that I have ever seen but Hendry for me that session of snooker was the best that anyone has ever played against me.

I think I’ve always said that Hendry was the best, O’Sullivan was the most naturally gifted player that I have ever seen and possibly will ever play the game, Alex Higgins was the best entertainer, most charismatic player and I think that John Higgins was probably the best all-rounder. For me those four players…and Davis, you can’t discount Davis, but in my time I think that it would be Hendry, Higgins, O’Sullivan and possibly then Williams.

PSB: Finally have you got a message to all of your many fans out there, I know that a lot of people were pleased to see you play so well in Australia…

KD: All I would say is thanks for all of the support, I’m grateful for all of the support, I love playing snooker.

I have had a great time travelling and have met loads of people and I appreciate all of the support and the well-wishers who have contacted me through Facebook, leaving me nice messages and so on and it is encouraging you know but hopefully I’m not dead in the water yet and there is still a bit of life in the old dog!

So just keep up the support and thanks very much for all of the good times.

 

Thank you to Ken for taking the time to chat to me and best of luck to him for the rest of the season. Ken is also due to release his autobiography ‘Life in the Frame’ later this year which will no doubt be a good read.

You can visit the website for the Ken Doherty Snooker Academy by clicking here.