‘My wife says I am the big­gest show-off – this is un­set­tling’

Shaun Mur­phy ad­mits an empty Cru­cible will bring ex­tra chal­lenges as he seeks to re­peat his world-ti­tle hero­ics of 2005

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Jim White

For the 128 com­peti­tors who gath­ered for the World Snooker Cham­pi­onship at the Cru­cible The­atre in Sh­effield, things have been rather dif­fer­ent from what they have ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. For a start, the tour­na­ment is tak­ing place in Au­gust, de­layed by the coron­avirus pan­demic from its con­ven­tional April slot.

And, when they ar­rive at the venue, the play­ers have been faced with the sort of Covid-pre­vent­ing mea­sures, from un­der­go­ing fre­quent tests to not shaking hands be­fore a match, that en­sure this is like no other tour­na­ment.

“The list of dos and don’ts we’ve been sent is ex­treme,” says Shaun Mur­phy, the 2005 cham­pion who be­gins his tour­na­ment against Nop­pon Saengkham, of Thai­land, to­day. “And rightly so. The gov­ern­ing body have done a bril­liant job to pre­pare us for this. They are flag bear­ers for the re­turn of nor­mal sport. So it’s im­por­tant we’re seen to be do­ing the right things. “Yes, a few of the stric­tures may be a lit­tle over the top, but ul­ti­mately we’re all very lucky to be go­ing back to work. If there’s a few hoops we have to jump through, so be it.”

Mur­phy ar­rived in Sh­effield af­ter at­tend­ing the fu­neral in Por­tu­gal of his man­ager and men­tor Bran­don Parker. He says he is hop­ing to ded­i­cate suc­cess to the man who had been with him since he won the world ti­tle. But he knows the cir­cum­stances are not easy. Like all of those in­volved, Mur­phy has barely played a com­pet­i­tive match since Fe­bru­ary.

“Back then I’d been on the road for six, seven weeks con­sec­u­tively,” he re­calls. “I did an in­ter­view post­match at one tour­na­ment and once the cam­eras were off I said, ‘Jeez, I’d like a week or two off this just to stay at home and work on my game’. All I can say is be care­ful what you wish for.”

At least in lock­down he did work on his game. Con­signed to his home in Ire­land for 11 weeks, he spent much of the time watch­ing videos on YouTube of for­mer play­ers in ac­tion, try­ing to im­prove through study. When he was fi­nally able to go back to the snooker club in Dublin where he prac­tises, he reck­ons that it was as big a re­lease as he has ever felt.

“I never want to go through that again,” he says of lock­down. “Let’s just say I don’t think my wife thought I was great com­pany.” Af­ter the long­est gap in com­pet­i­tive ac­tion in his pro­fes­sional ca­reer, he played in the Tour Cham­pi­onships in Mil­ton Keynes at the end of June. Staged be­hind closed doors, it was, he says, a very odd ex­pe­ri­ence. Not least be­cause he lost in the first round to his prac­tice part­ner Mark Allen. “I made six cen­turies and there wasn’t one clap, not one tap of the knee,” he says. “The si­lence was deaf­en­ing.

“My wife says I’m the big­gest show-off she’s ever met and I use snooker as my ve­hi­cle.

“I think the top com­peti­tors in any sport are per­form­ers. To go out to no­body and just play down the lens was un­set­tling.”

Not only that, he sug­gests the lack of a re­sponse changed the rhythm of the match.

“Nor­mally when some­body makes six cen­turies in front of a crowd it gets such a re­ac­tion it lifts the player so much it builds mo­men­tum. And it can swamp his op­po­nent. That didn’t hap­pen, Mark [Allen] hit me back.

“The lack of a crowd re­ally did play a part in the even­tual re­sult. Or that’s my ex­cuse any­way.”

The plan was that the Cru­cible would host spec­ta­tors through­out the com­pe­ti­tion, but this was shelved af­ter the first day when Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son slammed the brakes on fans at­tend­ing sport­ing events.

The ques­tion is whether the arena holds the same level of in­tim­i­da­tion,

‘I made six cen­turies and there wasn’t one clap, not one tap of the knee. The si­lence was deaf­en­ing’

but Mur­phy is adamant it re­mains one of the most in­tim­i­dat­ing venues in the sport.

“Oh, the Cru­cible can eat you alive, no ques­tion,” he says. “I re­mem­ber the first time I walked out as a debu­tant to play against Stephen Hendry.

“I was so ner­vous, whilst I was wait­ing for Hendry to be in­tro­duced, I un­screwed my bot­tle of wa­ter and tried to pour it with­out look­ing as I’d seen guys do on the TV many times. I missed the glass.

“I had only been in the arena for two min­utes and I nearly drowned my­self.”

When he starts his first-round match against Saengkham to­day he is hop­ing his aim has im­proved.

“I cer­tainly hope I can deal with it all a lot bet­ter now,” he smiles.

Back on cue: Shaun Mur­phy is happy to be play­ing again af­ter the lock­down lay-off

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