Name: Fergal O’Brien
DOB: 8th March 1972
Turned Pro: 1991
Highest Ranking: 9th (2000/1)
Highest Break: 143 (2001 Masters)
Career Highlights: 1999 British Open champion, 2001 Masters finalist, 2007 Northern Ireland Trophy finalist, Three Times Ranking Event semi-finalist, 2014 ET8 finalist
Turning professional in the summer of 1991, Fergal enjoyed an impressive début season, qualifying for the last 128 of three events and ending it with a ranking of 192. These results gave him a solid platform to build on during his second season when he made the last 16 of an event for the first time at the Asian Open, beating six-times world champion Steve Davis along the way.
His next few seasons were steady without being too spectacular, moving slowly up the rankings and making his first ranking event quarter-final at the 1995 Grand Prix before losing to the number one player Stephen Hendry.
It was to be 1997/8 where his results were really to step up however as he reached the semi-finals of a ranking event for the first time at the Scottish Open. As well as this he won his first match at the World Championship with a dramatic 10-9 win over James Wattana and so moved up to a new high of 20th in the rankings.
British Open Champion
Now a consistent face in the latter stages of events, it seemed only a matter of time until he would make a breakthrough to the elite top 16 for the first time. He sealed his place there at the 1999 British Open where having defeated John Higgins and Peter Ebdon in close matches, Fergal then beat Anthony Hamilton 9-7 in the final to win his first (and so far only), ranking event title.
Following this he was to remain inside the top 16 for three consecutive years though he rarely threatened to win a second ranking trophy. The highlight of this period was to come at the invitational Benson and Hedges Masters where he defeated Mark Williams, Ken Doherty and Dave Harold to reach the final. Despite leading Paul Hunter 7-3 however, it was the man from Leeds who would go on to win the match, 10-9 following an epic match.
Dip in form
Fergal took a long time to recover from this result as he struggled to win matches and at the end of the 2001/2 season he lost his place in the top 16. Results did not improve in 2002/3 as he won only four matches and surprisingly dropped out of the top 32, unthinkable given his results a couple of years earlier.
Fergal’s form was not to improve dramatically until several years later at the 2007 Northern Ireland Trophy when he was a shock finalist having defeated Ronnie O’Sullivan along the way. Although he lost heavily to Stephen Maguire in the final, he had done enough to move back into the top 32 and restore some confidence that had been lacking in recent times.
After his strong 2007/8 showing though, the following season was to be a disaster as he managed to win just three matches all season and slipped seven places down the rankings as a result, though he just about hung on to a place in the top 32.
The first half of 2009/10 continued to be a frustrating time for Fergal as he lost his opening match in all three of the ranking events staged, though this statement does not nearly tell the story.
His first defeat came against a returning to form Ken Doherty in the Shanghai Masters in a match that lasted for four hours and ten minutes before Doherty eventually prevailed. The conclusion to the match was particularly painful as having needed four snookers, Fergal actually got three of them before he fouled himself and Ken potted brown and blue to book his last 32 place.
Fergal during the 2011 World Championship qualifiers
Then what followed against Matt Selt in the Grand Prix qualifiers was another epic in which Fergal notched breaks of 113, 93 and 87 before losing 5-3! Another close defeat followed against Rory McLeod in the UK Championship qualifiers but he was finally to break his duck at the Welsh Open qualifiers before he also qualified for the China Open and World Championship.
This late season run ensured that although he would fall 16 places down the rankings, he would just about hang on to a top 48 place at the end of the season.
Having finished the previous campaign well, Fergal continued this form into 2010/11 with victories in each of the first events carrying ranking points. Highlights included a semi-final at the EPTC2 event as well as a last 32 run at the World Open tournament in Glasgow as the Irishman consolidated his place inside the top 48.
An opening round victory at the UK Championship followed against Jamie Jones before early exits in the Welsh Open and German Masters ended any outside chances of a return to the top 32 at the end of the season.
Fergal during the 2011 World Championship qualifiers
Again at the China Open and World Championship tournaments Fergal was to win his opening matches but was unable to qualify for the venues. His defeat to Matthew Stevens during the World Championship qualifiers was particularly disappointing as having been a heavy favourite to take the deciding frame, a poor safety on the final black gave the Welshman a chance that he was not about to miss.
Overall however it had been a positive season and one that saw him move up to 37th place in the rankings.
Fergal made a strong start to the 2011/12 season, winning his opening match at the Australian Goldfields Open qualifiers before going one better and making it to the Shanghai Masters with wins against Michael White and Ricky Walden.
A semi-final run soon followed at PTC2 with victories against Ali Carter and Ronnie O’Sullivan along the way, as well as a quarter-final run at PTC4 in Germany.
Fegal at the 2011 UK Championship qualifiers
Though he was to lose out at the last 16 stage of the Shanghai Masters to Mark King, that run together with his consistent performances during the PTC events were enough to see him climb back up into the top 32 of the rankings at the first mid-season seedings revision.
The second half of Fergal’s season was to prove a struggle however, opening match defeats at the UK Championship, German Masters, Haikou World Open and World Championship qualifiers seeing him drop to 34th by the end of the campaign.
Fergal began the 2012/13 season with a run to the last 16 of the Wuxi Classic, where he would lose out to Scotland’s Marcus Campbell.
His best result at a PTC event would come at the UKPTC3 in Gloucester, where he won four matches to make it through to the quarter-finals, before losing out to Welshman Dominic Dale.
The first half of 2013 was to prove a struggle for Fergal, as he won just one match, at the Welsh Open qualifiers against Nigel Bond.
Perhaps Fergal’s strongest results during the course of the 2013/14 season were to come during the campaign’s European Tour events, in particular the final event in Gdynia where he defeated six players to reach the final, before losing to a resurgent Shaun Murphy.
This result, combined with his quarter-final run at the season opening ET1 event helped to ensure that Fergal would qualify for the Players Championship Grand Finals, where he won one match before losing out to Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen.
His strongest performance at a full-ranking event was to come at the International Championship where he made it through to the last 16 before losing 6-3 to Welshman Ryan Day.
Another solid showing would follow at the UK Championship, where he won two matches to reach the last 32, but his season would end with an agonising defeat to Robbie Williams at the World Championship qualifiers, Williams claiming a 10-9 victory on a re-spotted black in the deciding frame.
Nevertheless Fergal was able to end the season ranked as top Irishman in 31st place.
Fergal’s strongest run during the course of the 2014/15 season was to come at the Shanghai Masters, where he defeated Jamie Cope, Robert Milkins and Zhao Xintong to reach the quarter-finals, before losing 5-0 to world champion Mark Selby.
He was also able to reach the last 16 of two European Tour events, as well as making it all the way to the final of the World Seniors Championship, notably making two centuries against Peter Ebdon, before losing 2-1 to Mark Williams.
The season was though to end in disappointment as for the second successive year he was to narrow miss out on a return to the Crucible, losing on the colours to Norway’s Kurt Maflin.
He would finish the season up four places to 27th in the rankings.
Ranking Event wins (1)
Non-Ranking Event wins (1)
|Lucan Racing Irish Snooker Classic||2010|