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Shaun Murphy – Looking To Put Something Back

Having received a bye in his first match the recent UKPTC1 event in Gloucester, world number four Shaun Murphy was faced with the prospect of a long wait before he played his last 64 match against James Wattana. That being the case, I took the opportunity to help Shaun pass the time by having a chat with me for PSB.

Click below for Shaun’s thoughts on a variety of subjects including the new season, the current direction of the sport, his recent foray into commentary in Australia and of course, his greatest triumph at the Crucible in 2005…

PSB: How are you feeling ahead of the new season?

Shaun Murphy: Yeah good. I had a decent season last year. I think a lot of players are getting into the swing of things now in this new era of snooker. A lot of the changes aren’t new any more so the players are settling into the PTCs and the travelling and I feel like I have been one of the biggest supporters of the tour. I have loved every minute of it and can’t wait to get back on the road if you like.

PSB: How much practice have you been putting in recently, have you had a few weeks off?

SM: I had a lot of time off after the World Championship. I have tried something that I have never done before, I didn’t really practice at all before going out to China, I enjoyed my time off.

I do believe that at some stage in the season those extra few weeks off will pay dividends, having not gone back to the table so soon. In fairness it cost me at Wuxi because I just wasn’t ready. I had a few days out there practising in the practice room and really trying to cheat the system if you like. But they do say that you get out what you put in and I certainly didn’t put enough in and I paid the price, so maybe a lesson learned there.

But I think that at some time in the season that will come back and I will be a little bit fresher, maybe not as worn out as some of the other players and who knows how that will pan out.

PSB: It was an interesting season for you last term, I know that some on Twitter and the blogs etc were saying that you hadn’t had a good season, but certainly for the first two-thirds of 2011/2, you were often at the latter stages and amassed a large amount of ranking points. What do you class as a good season these days?

SM: I think now, any time that you win, you have got to class that as a good season. I certainly think that all of the players are keen to do well in the majors. I did alright in the UK, nearly won the Masters, but lost in the first round in the World Championship which was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow really. It is a tournament that I have historically done very well in, I feel very comfortable there, I prepared very well for that tournament and I thought that I played a good match.

Shaun speaks to the press at the 2012 World Championship

But the lad I played against Jamie Jones played better. There is nothing we can do about that in sport. You can’t bargain for how well your opponent will play. Snooker is a two-man sport, it’s not a team game, there’s not loads of other people who can take the blame from you and if you make the mistakes you get punished. It was hard to take, but I took it and will come back stronger.

PSB: How impressed were you with Jamie in that match and during the rest of the tournament?

SM: Very much so and if I’m honest, the most impressive thing about him I thought was into the second week where he lost in the quarter-finals and I saw him the morning after at the Crucible when I was back there doing some filming. He was just leaving the Crucible and I congratulated him on a good run to the quarters, asked him if he had enjoyed it.

He was so exuberant about how much he had enjoyed the game, how great a time he’d had and how he couldn’t wait to get back on the table. That showed to me the qualities of somebody who was keen and excited and wanted to play. The tour has been set up for people like him and I think he will go on to do good things.

PSB: I remember in 2010 after you had lost in the tournament, you said that you never miss the final, always watch it to the death…

SM: I have to confess this year was the first year that I didn’t watch the final, only because I was abroad, I went to New York for a few days. I was walking down Fifth Avenue with my girlfriend and we got stopped by someone who asked ‘are you Shaun Murphy’ and this, that and the other and what are you doing here.

He said that he had just left his apartment having been watching the snooker live on the internet for a coffee. It is a strange time, snooker has never historically been that popular in the United States, but I was stopped four or five times for the few days I was there and that for me shows that snooker is growing and maybe if we can crack the States someday, that would be the future.

PSB: Talking about the calendar and the growth of snooker worldwide, what is your view on the direction that the sport is heading in at the moment?

SM: It’s heading in the way that we all wish it had gone in years and years ago. In the 1980’s snooker and golf were at a similar standard of popularity and the European Tour has gone off and done its thing as well all know. Snooker is trailing behind it but it is good to see that it has finally turned and has seen the error of its ways.

I am so thrilled that we have got the team in place who are running the game now. I am a supporter of the things that Barry has said along the lines of ‘I like working and all I can ask of the people who put the events on is to give me opportunities to play and if I don’t win and earn any money, that’s my fault as a sportsman and I need to practice and get better.’

All they can do is offer the chances of tournaments and put them on, what more could I ask for as a player?

PSB: You have always had a good record overseas as a player, having won in Wuxi, Malta and so on, do you think that there is any reason for that?

SM: I think that I have always had a decent attitude about travelling, I love travelling and I am so lucky to get to see all these different places and in general my attitude is very positive to getting on a plane and the whole travelling aspect of it and I look forward to going away and promoting the sport.

A winner in Dublin – 2011 PTC Grand Finals Champion

I do genuinely enjoy the PR days, meeting the sponsors and getting to know people. I have made some good friends over the past few years and it is good to go back and see them and to see how they are. We’ve all made good friends with some of the lads out in Australia, some of the lads who work for IMG out there who help the tournament organisers and it was great going back to see them as well as the snooker this year.

As I have said before, when I retire from snooker and look back with my grandkids in the future, it would be nice to say that Grandad went here and I did this and tell them all of these stories. We wouldn’t have had that a few years ago.

PSB: On the subject of Australia, I hear that you did a spot of commentary there, I didn’t hear it myself…

SM: Yeah I loved it. We were just sat there watching the snooker on the first or second day and the guy that was running it came over to me and asked if I would be interested in having a go at the commentary and I said that I would jump at the chance.

I have always wanted to have a go at it and really, really enjoyed it. It was difficult holding back from saying…not what I really thought, but things like ‘what has he done there?!’ and all that stuff…

PSB: Did you use the word careless?

SM: (laughs) I did try to get careless in, but I’m leaving that to Twitter!

PSB: But you enjoyed it?

SM: Loved it, absolutely loved it and who knows, I might get stuck into it in other tournaments.

PSB: It must be difficult to be honest because you are playing these guys right now…

SM: No absolutely, there is that thing but I think that the feedback I received on Twitter and the people that were listening to it on Fox Sports in Australia was that it was really interesting to listening to a player’s insight.

They had Robbie Foldvari in the box and he is obviously an ex-player, but not someone who is used to playing maybe on today’s modern conditions with the tables set up as they are and the lighting and everything. I was really trying to explain things from a player’s point of view, time limitations, sometimes feeling a little bit embarrassed about missing a certain shot and so on.

Shaun at the 2012 Masters

The feedback I had is that people were really enjoying the commentary that I was giving and the insights that I was able to provide. I’m not saying that everything I was saying was right. Most of the predictions I was making were wrong! It was quite funny, I had to dig myself out of a few holes every now and again but in general I loved it and it is something that I hope I can do again in the future.

PSB: In terms of your career, you turned professional in 1998, how happy are you overall with what you have achieved to date? Obviously you have won the two big ones, the World and UK Championships, but what are your targets at the moment?

SM: When I look back at my career at the minute, I look back and think that it took me longer to break through than I had wanted it to. But I really feel like I paid my dues from being 15, 16 and then being 22 and winning the World Championship. Those five or six years were key and I don’t think that I would be playing but for those years, they really toughened me up.

A couple of weeks before I won the world title, I effectively gave up snooker and went to get a job because I felt like I had kidded myself on for too long and I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. I only played in the World Championship because I had paid my entry fee and I went ahead and won it. It was a weird fortnight that one.

If my career was to end now, it’s something that I would look back on pretty proudly, think that I did well, won the two biggest tournaments that we have in our game currently and joined a quite a small group of players to have won those events. I nearly won the third of the majors this year to have joined an even smaller club.

I feel like I have at all times conducted myself pretty well as a pro, I feel like I have represented the game well and I am constantly trying to put something back now into snooker which I feel has given me such a great opportunity.

PSB: How important is that to you?

SM: It’s becoming joint top priority now for me because I think that snooker is becoming such a big game and so popular to so many that it is giving an opportunity of a very good livelihood to the players. I think that it is only right that those players who don’t have to go to work every day, put something back.

With fans at the Crucible

I have teamed up with the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity and am trying to do as many things as I can to promote them. A member of my family has spent a lot of time there. You see a lot of players involved in different things away from snooker and the more the better I think.

PSB: You are giving them £100 per century I think?

SM: Yeah I started it at the Crucible and I think I made two, then I think I made one in Australia. The worry I’ve got is that if I miss in the 90’s people are going to think that I’ve missed on purpose to save the hundred quid! But you know over the season I hope to make quite a few and even if I make just three or four thousand pounds, it’s more getting their name out there, getting the cause out there and making people aware and maybe more players will follow suit.

PSB: Turning back to 2005 and your Crucible triumph, it was particularly memorable to me too as it was my first live tournament. When did you first actually think that you might be able to win it?

SM: I didn’t think I could win it until the Monday morning. I remember driving back home from the Crucible trailing 10-6 and I remember saying to myself that I had not come all that way to lose.

When I had turned up to the tournament as a qualifier, nobody had expected me to get through the first or second round, least of all myself having been there twice and got beaten twice. When I beat Chris Small in the first round I thought that it was nice to have won a match at the Crucible, that was great, I could always say that I had got there and won.

I didn’t expect to beat Higgins in the second round. I played like I had got nothing to lose and I beat him and beat him well.

I really enjoyed the match against Steve Davis, though I was very nervous playing Davis at the Crucible. Really nervous, but played very well in that match, through to play Peter Ebdon in the semi-finals.

I had expected to be playing Ronnie in the semis but that was the year that Peter had beaten him in the quarters and he came through that match and I knew that if he had beaten somebody like O’Sullivan, he as going to be a tough cookie the next day. He started so well in the semi-final and I knew that I had a job on my hands, but I managed to come back and come through 17-12 or something.

The Crucible ahead of the opening session of the 2005 World Championship final

But still at that stage I didn’t think that I would win the tournament and it wasn’t until the Monday. The first two sessions of the World Championship final I was a bit of a rabbit caught in the headlights, I was completely overawed at the whole situation. It was the first time I had seen the trophy in the arena, I had no idea what being in the final of a ranking event was like because I had never been that far in a tournament. There were so many firsts going on that it was very, very difficult.

Then when the Monday morning came I got up with a real deep belief that I could win this, he still needed eight frames to win it and there was a long way to go and if I knuckled in and played hard, there was every chance. I knew that he would get nervous as well as he got nearer to the line and I was pleased in the end with obviously how it worked out.

PSB: Obviously it was the last Embassy as well, did that make it extra special?

SM: Yeah I guess so, I didn’t really realise the significance of that at the time and in fact I was at Jimmy White’s testimonial a few weeks ago where one of the auction items was a piece of the sponsorship boarding from that night with all of the previous champions on it and I bid for it and got it. That’s something that I will hold on to and keep safe for a long time because it is very special, but very, very special to me.

To be the last Embassy champion, people still call it the Embassy, so to be the last Embassy champion means a lot.

PSB: More recently, I remember last season during Judd’s run at the Crucible you commented on Twitter that maybe the way to go is just to go for everything again, but of course you have still got to have an all-round game as well…

SM: I think so. It comes and goes in fits and starts. Somebody comes along who is a breath of fresh air and plays a very attacking game, but then the other players evolve and learn how to counter it. That’s what happens in life and I think that has just started to happen in snooker now.

I think that the players have though ok then Judd or whoever plays that way, you play like that, but we are going to play like this and you can’t pot them from behind the baulk colours or whatever.

2008 UK Champion

I go back to something that Ray Reardon said to me many years ago that is now the game has gone so open, the tactical aspect of the game has now become the most important part, forcing your opportunities and whilst a lot of people might not want to see that style of snooker but because everybody is so capable of making a hundred breaks and potting balls, it has become so important to become a good defender. It’s something that I certainly wish I had learned years and years ago.

I spent so many years on the tour just going for my shots and going home in the car having lost, but thinking that at least I went down fighting. Of course what a load of rubbish, it’s easy to get sucked into playing one way.

If you watch the golfers, some of them only like to play the way they want to play, but they can’t win every tournament playing that way. Sometimes you have got to hit it hit or low or left or right, but you have got to have every shot in the bag.

I was always taught that you have got to have all of the shots in your bag, not just some, and that’s what being a professional means and that’s what I am trying to learn at the minute.

PSB: Even now?

SM: Absolutely, when somebody learns everything and they have got nothing left to learn, that player will win every tournament that they play. Until that happens you can always learn.

PSB: You are back in the Premier League as well for another season, a previous winner of course. Pleased to be back?

SM: I think that I am the only player other than Ronnie to win it in the last seven or eight years, so that is obviously a great honour, I am really glad that I got picked, it certainly makes the trip to Brazil seem more worthwhile now, maybe some of the other players who didn’t go might be ruing that decision.

Back in the Premier League

To be in it is great, it’s a great event, it’s one of the best events that we have all year, it’s a little bit less pressure because there are no points at stake, we can just go and play with freedom and really try and entertain the crowd and have a great time.

The bonuses with century breaks and frames won also makes it a lot more interesting to play for. Sky put a really good event on, they film it well and cover it well, we all have a good crack and I would have been a bit disappointed not to have been in that. But now I am in it, I hope to do well in it.

PSB: And obviously Ronnie isn’t in it this year, having been so dominant in the format, is there anyone in particular who you think will shine in the format in his absence?

SM: I think that with the way the game has gone, everyone in it could win it. There are definitely players in it who the clock will suit more than most and there are others who might struggle in it. I struggled in it when I first played in it and I wouldn’t consider myself a slow player. But I struggled with the clock just because it was there, I had never played in a timed environment before.

I got used to it after a couple of years and now really enjoy it. 25 seconds isn’t that quick, the trick is to just realise you can play your normal game and be alright. The Shoot Out is a bit more severe with the 15 seconds for the last five minutes.

PSB: Finally, obviously you have got a website now, it always amazes me how many top players have not got websites, though obviously Twitter is now giving them a voice to some extent. How important do you think the online and social media aspects are to snooker going forward?

SM: I just think that social media and online communities have taken over the world and we’ve seen governments rise and fall because of social media and people getting a voice.

Bringing that back to something as small as snooker, I think if you are not into this media, it’s a way of getting in touch with your fans or followers, people who love the game or whatever, then you are behind the times.

I love Twitter for being able to be in contact with people who love the sport, people who like to ask questions about snooker matches or snooker in general or anything is a brilliant way of connecting.

I also think that it is a great way of putting your side of the story across when something has been said or has been written about you that is not actually accurate, and that does happen with the media sometimes where they can turn something or say something that you didn’t say.

I’ve had a couple of times where I have felt that I wanted to put the story right on Twitter and been able to do that. Before the invention of that I wouldn’t have had the right to reply so it is great from my point of view as quite a proud person, to be able to say that I didn’t say that and I like it from that point of view.

 

Many thanks to Shaun for taking time out to chat to me and best of luck to him for the rest of the season. He will next be in action at the UKPTC2 event on 10th August 2012 when he takes on Jamie O’Neill in his opening match.