Tommy Con­lon

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - [email protected]­DE­PEN­DENT.IE TOMMY CON­LON

In Bill’s big hand the pint looked more like a thim­ble, and he seemed to treat it as a tri­fling quan­tity too, such was the speed with which the suds would dis­ap­pear.

WITH Hur­ri­cane Hig­gins and Big Bill Wer­be­niuk alas long gone to the great Cru­cible in the sky, it fell to Jimmy White, the last of the hell­rais­ers, to im­part some fa­therly ad­vice on the per­ils of booze and the green baize.

Mind you, Mark Allen seemed to be do­ing all right any­way, for he’d just won his semi-fi­nal in the Scot­tish Open hav­ing turned up hun­gover af­ter a week on the piss in Glas­gow. It looked like he was about to pay the price in said semi, trail­ing 4-0 at the in­ter­val against Welsh jour­ney­man Daniel Wells. The cri­sis called for emer­gency ac­tion. Allen headed to the bar for a few straight­en­ers, “a cou­ple of Mag­n­ers to set­tle me down”.

Upon the re­sump­tion he won six of the next seven frames to reach last Sun­day’s fi­nal. The pre­vi­ous Sun­day he’d been beaten by Ron­nie O’Sul­li­van in the UK Cham­pi­onship fi­nal but had walked away with £75,000 in prize money for his trou­ble. And he planned on tear­ing a hole in it over the com­ing days. “I did say I was gonna come to Scot­land and en­joy it,” he said af­ter the Wells game.

The Antrim man was true to his word. In be­tween dis­patch­ing three Chi­nese chal­lengers in the early rounds, he was knock­ing the sher­bets back goodo of an evening. The par­ty­ing caught up with him in that first ses­sion with Wells on Satur­day. “I only had four or five drinks last night,” he ex­plained on Eurosport. “Other nights I been out and had more than my fair share and I felt OK the next day. (But) I felt hor­ren­dous this morn­ing when I woke up — maybe I didn’t have enough!”

And what had he been drink­ing, asked pre­sen­ter Andy Gold­stein? “Straw­berry and lime Kop­par­bergs,” replied The Pis­tol, help­fully. To be fair, he wasn’t gloat­ing about it. He openly ad­mit­ted he’d “shown dis­re­spect (to) the tour­na­ment”. In a sep­a­rate in­ter­view he said it was “the first time I’ve done that in my ca­reer and it’s not some­thing I’d ad­vise to any­one”.

On the other hand, he wasn’t ex­actly racked with guilt ei­ther. With ace cue man Shaun Mur­phy await­ing him in the fi­nal the next day, surely he’d lie low on Satur­day night? “Yeah, but like I could stay in tonight and go to bed early and feel hor­ren­dous to­mor­row,” he replied as a mis­chievous smile spread from ear to ear. “So I may as well go out and have a good time.”

It was at this point that White, sit­ting be­side him on the Eurosport sofa, brought his vast ex­pe­ri­ence to bear on the sit­u­a­tion. He “very rarely” drinks now but he hadn’t for­got­ten the lure of a jar, even dur­ing world cham­pi­onship matches at the Cru­cible — in fact, es­pe­cially there.

The in­ter­vals lasted 20 min­utes. “And I used to go and ‘ave ‘alf a lager in the play­ers’ lounge,” he fondly re­mem­bered, “then I’d go to the Em­bassy (spon­sors) lounge and ‘ave ‘alf a lager, then I’d go and ‘ave one with the rep­tiles — the press — and then I’d ‘ave one in the bar.” At this point in Jimmy’s rem­i­nis­cences, Allen and Gold­stein are crack­ing up.

And at this point too we were trans­ported back to those im­per­ish­able scenes where the likes of Wer­be­niuk, Hig­gins and other as­sorted hus­tlers would smoke and drink their way through ev­ery frame, never mind the in­ter­val. In­deed it was the class­room swots such as Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, with their chaste sips of wa­ter, who were seen by many as show­ing “dis­re­spect” to the urchin spirit of snooker’s rack­ety, Bryl­creemed glory days.

In Bill’s big hand the pint looked more like a thim­ble, and he seemed to treat it as a tri­fling quan­tity too, such was the speed with which the suds would dis­ap­pear from the glass. On one oc­ca­sion which has passed into lore, he was said to have lit­er­ally drunk the Scot­tish pro­fes­sional Ed­die Sin­clair un­der a snooker ta­ble, hav­ing quaffed an es­ti­mated 42 pints of the blonde foam (the ex­act num­ber has never been ver­i­fied).

And Hig­gins of course had long ago turned his blood­stream into vodka, hos­ing it down the gul­let with an or­ange mixer usu­ally, in be­tween play­ing some of the most ou­tra­geous shots ever ex­e­cuted with a pointy stick. Be­fore the 1979 world cham­pi­onships, he de­cided to give up the gar­gle and stick to tea. Ob­vi­ously it was al­ways go­ing to be one of the most fu­tile ef­forts at tem­per­ance ever known to man. Duly beaten by Terry Grif­fiths, the Hur­ri­cane was heard to swear af­ter­wards: “Fuck the tea, I’m go­ing back to some­thing stronger.”

Per­haps mind­ful of the dan­gers of such sud­den ab­sti­nence, and not un­aware that he was deal­ing with an­other strong-willed North­ern Ir­ish­man, White last Satur­day coun­selled The Pis­tol to think care­fully be­fore end­ing his spree abruptly. Some ta­per­ing off might be the most sen­si­ble course of ac­tion. “If you’re do­ing it all week, like, my ad­vice to you tonight is just have like two or three pints and see how you feel,” sug­gested Jimmy, the Obi-Wan Kenobi to Allen’s Luke Sky­walker. “Don’t have none cos if you have none you’ll feel worse.”

The next day, and suit­ably moved by Jimmy’s words of wis­dom, he beat Mur­phy 9-7 to win the Scot­tish Open, the tro­phy for which is named af­ter one . . . Stephen Hendry. Against all known modern think­ing, Allen had pre­vailed by fol­low­ing the way of the Wer­be­niuk, as op­posed to the way of the dry shite.

His re­ward for bend­ing his el­bow at the ta­ble, and in­deed the bar, was an­other £70,000 in prize money. But now he was go­ing to put the cue away for a few days, he de­clared, and “en­joy the Christ­mas” — be­cause clearly he hadn’t been en­joy­ing it enough al­ready.

In Bill’s big hand the pint looked like a thim­ble

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