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Ronnie’s potshot? Give us a break!

Potters are ready to prove world champion wrong after criticism of emerging talent

20 August, 2020 — By Steve Barnett

John Donovan and Lee Whaley are being tipped as future snooker stars

PROMISING potters are being urged to “prove Ronnie wrong” after the six-time world champion took a swipe at emerging snooker talent who are taking to the table.

The “Rocket” dismantled Kyren Wilson 18-8 in Sunday’s final at the Crucible in Sheffield, leaving World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn purring that, when it comes to fans’ interest in the sport, “O’Sullivan is the cream on the cake”.

O’Sullivan makes headlines – both on and off the table – quicker than he chalks up centuries.

And this tournament was no exception.

The 44-year old pulled no punches when he criticised the quality following in his footsteps, saying he would have to “lose an arm and a leg to fall out of the top 50”.

He added: “Most of them would do well as half-decent amateurs, not even amateurs. They are so bad.”

And while O’Sullivan’s remarks may have been aimed more directly at “the young players coming through” right now, it would be naive to think that the next generation wasn’t listening, too.

“I don’t know why he had to say that,” said Lee Whaley, a talented young player emerging from the tables at the Hurricane Room in King’s Cross.

Ronnie O’Sullivan wins his sixth world title. Photo: BBC

“Every youngster is trying their very best, and putting in 100 per cent effort to reach the levels needed to become a top professional. It seems unfair to criticise that effort and commitment.”

He added: “I love watching Ronnie play, he’s one of my idols – I guess that hasn’t changed.”

Lee is doing his talking at the table. The 17-year-old, who lives in Marylebone, pocketed his sixth win in seven tournaments on the Cuestars Under-21s Silver Tour before the coronavirus outbreak.

It has all but guaranteed him a spot on the Gold Tour when next season gets underway.

Lee could earn his big break on the national stage, too, having also qualified for the Under-21s Premier Development Tour play-offs.

A date for the finals is yet to be announced, but when it is, 32 of the best young snooker players in the country, including Lee, will battle it out for an elusive place in English Partnership for Snooker and Billiards’ (EPSB) top tier next season.

Lee, who is studying performing arts at Westminster Kingsway College, said: “I’m really looking forward to the competition. I found it really tough not being able to play for almost three months.

“In February I recorded my highest ever break of 110, and the next thing I knew we were going into lockdown. But I kept my cool and didn’t let myself get wound up. Now I’m back at the practice table and fully focused on getting back to the level I was at before, if not even better.”

And Lee isn’t the only player emerging from Gone-2-Pot, a snooker club set up for young potters by top coach John Woods in King’s Cross.

Fresh from winning the Cuestars Under-21s Bronze Tour last season, John Donovan has firmly established himself on the Silver Tour.

The 14-year-old, who lives in Somers Town and goes to Regent High School, has also once again made the last-16 of the EPSB’s Under-14s National Snooker Championships.

“As soon as the clubs were allowed to open again I raced back to practice,” revealed John, who is eligible for the national finals as he was only 13 when the competition started.

“Now I’m back I feel good. All I want to do is keep practising and trying to get better.

“I want to be one of the best, and if I keep working hard I’m sure I will be – and will even win a few world titles.”

Coach Woods has challenged his Gone-2-Pot stars to “prove Ronnie wrong”, adding: “The opportunity is there for young players to make the breakthrough.

“If they practise hard enough, put in the hours at the table, and are fully committed to the sport, I have no doubt that they can reach the very top.”

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