Do­herty lam­basts O’Sul­li­van over ‘deroga­tory’ at­tack on young ri­vals

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Jim White

Ron­nie O’Sul­li­van has come un­der fire from former world cham­pion Ken Do­herty over his sear­ing crit­i­cism of snooker’s next gen­er­a­tion of play­ers.

Five-time cham­pion O’Sul­li­van, af­ter beat­ing Ding Jun­hui on Sun­day, said his young ri­vals were so bad he would need to “lose an arm and a leg” to fall out of the top 50.

But the 44-year-old was taken to task by Do­herty. “Name an­other sports­man that would slag off the rest of the tour say­ing they are not that good,” he said. “The stan­dard is as high as ever. It may be a bit tongue-in-cheek but it is not nice. I think it is deroga­tory.”

O’Sul­li­van faces a bat­tle to stay in the World Cham­pi­onship af­ter 45-year-old op­po­nent Mark Wil­liams hit form to build a com­mand“This ing lead in their quar­ter-fi­nal in Sh­effield. Welsh­man Wil­liams, seek­ing a fourth world ti­tle, won five con­sec­u­tive frames at the Cru­cible to es­tab­lish a 6-2 overnight ad­van­tage in the best-of-25 quar­ter-fi­nal.

The pair shared the open­ing four frames, but O’Sul­li­van was sec­ond best on the re­sump­tion of play.

Ear­lier, Kyren Wil­son moved into a 5-3 lead over de­fend­ing cham­pion Judd Trump, be­fore ex­tend­ing his ad­van­tage to 10-6 overnight.

Mark Selby led in his quar­ter-fi­nal with Aus­tralian Neil Robert­son af­ter es­tab­lish­ing a 5-3 lead in their first ses­sion. In the bat­tle of the qual­i­fiers, An­thony McGill leads Nor­we­gian Kurt Maflin 7-1.

Right on cue, Ron­nie O’Sul­li­van has de­liv­ered his cus­tom­ary overview of the state of his own sport. On this oc­ca­sion, the five-time world cham­pion has been mus­ing about the deficit of emerg­ing tal­ent. Though as is tra­di­tional with him, mus­ing might be too del­i­cate a term.

Telling it like it is: Ron­nie O’Sul­li­van did not hold back with some sting­ing crit­i­cism di­rected at the game’s younger play­ers

“Look at the younger play­ers com­ing through and they’re not that good re­ally,” the 44-year-old said, af­ter he had reached the World Cham­pi­onship quar­ter­fi­nals by de­feat­ing Ding Jun­hui on Sun­day.

“They’d prob­a­bly do well as half-de­cent am­a­teurs. Not even am­a­teurs, they’re so bad. A lot of them you see now you think, cor, I’d prob­a­bly have to lose an arm and a leg to fall out the top 50.”

It was not the first time O’Sul­li­van had ver­bally as­saulted the sport from which he has ex­tracted more than £11mil­lion in prize money. Ac­tu­ally, he seems to do it an­nu­ally. Last year, he com­plained about hav­ing to take part in a com­pe­ti­tion in a leisure cen­tre near Gatwick Air­port (“ev­ery day in Craw­ley is a day lost in my life”); in 2018, he threat­ened to start his own break­away tour; in 2017, he in­sisted on speak­ing in a robotic voice when be­ing in­ter­viewed, say­ing that was how the sport’s gov­ern­ing body wanted its par­tic­i­pants to be­have, be­cause if they said any­thing in­ter­est­ing they risked be­ing fined.

So it is that over the years O’Sul­li­van has mor­phed into the Roy Keane of the baize, de­liv­er­ing take-no-pris­on­ers as­saults on his own sport. It is al­most as if his re­marks are stage-man­aged to stim­u­late headlines.

But, as al­ways with O’Sul­li­van, this is not mere look-at-me grand­stand­ing. In­vari­ably, there is more than a spark of ac­cu­racy in his jibes. His at­tack on the lack of young play­ers com­ing through might have been char­ac­terised as a be­lated re­venge at­tack on 24-yearold James Cahill, who knocked him out of the tour­na­ment last year, but who was beaten this year in the first qual­i­fy­ing round by a 15-yearold, who then in turn lost in the next round. You can imag­ine O’Sul­li­van smirk­ing that this was not ex­actly the fol­low-up of a gen­uine con­tender.

But the draw for the World Cham­pi­onship quar­ter-fi­nals does sug­gest he is right: snooker is not a

As al­ways with O’Sul­li­van, there was more than a hint of ac­cu­racy in his jibes

sport bristling with youth­ful po­ten­tial. Sure, the pan­demic has re­duced the num­ber of Chi­nese par­tic­i­pants, but still this is a line-up that would not have been sur­pris­ing 10 years ago.

The av­er­age age of the eight par­tic­i­pants is 35. O’Sul­li­van him­self will be up against 45-yearold Mark Wil­liams. Never mind a young man’s game, this is a tour­na­ment in dan­ger of be­com­ing a veterans’ trib­ute act.

In­deed, World Snooker’s own list of five to watch at the start of this sea­son in­cluded two play­ers aged 37 and 38. If play­ers are ever banned from wear­ing bet­ting com­pany lo­gos on their waist­coats, there are any num­ber of hair dye com­pa­nies that would be happy to step into the breach.

O’Sul­li­van’s breezy, throw­away dis­missal of the next gen­er­a­tion dis­guises a real prob­lem for his sport. The cue-wield­ing equiv­a­lents of teenage foot­ballers such as Ma­son Green­wood, Bukayo Saka and Cur­tis Jones are yet to rack up a max­i­mum break. Nor can the lack of tal­ent com­ing through be brushed off as a cycli­cal blip; it is in­dica­tive of a se­ri­ous de­cline in the sport’s roots. How­ever grip­ping this year’s cham­pi­onship might be, the sad truth is that fewer young peo­ple are ded­i­cat­ing them­selves to the ta­ble.

Still, there are com­pen­sa­tions. Nine­teen years on from his first world ti­tle, the lack of com­pe­ti­tion sug­gests O’Sul­li­van will be pro­vok­ing for some time yet. He may be long past vet­eran sta­tus, but the sport’s one box-of­fice star is right: he may well have to lose a cou­ple of limbs be­fore he steps away and stops talk­ing the truth to snooker’s power­bro­kers.

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