Now the dust has settled I thought I’d jot down a few lines and look back on what’s been the best season of my career.
It’s been a long but very enjoyable season and as a tour we’ve covered some miles! From Australia to Germany and China to Llandudno, we’ve seen the tour grow and grow. In one way I wish I could turn back time and start my career again as the opportunities for new players on tour these days are so much greater than they were in the late 1990s when I turned professional. But as I haven’t finished making the ‘Murphy Time Machine’ just yet, I’ll have to push on.
I was really pleased to win the Ruhr Open and the Bulgarian Open. These two wins helped me get to the top of the European Order of Merit and qualify for the Tour Finals in Thailand. The weekend in the Ruhr Open was a strange one though. During that tournament I could’ve made six 147s…honestly! As it happened, I missed some really good chances but in the end I managed to make one in the final. The last black that I played to get onto the yellow was one of my shots of the season and one that people still come up to me to chat about.
The first major of the season, the UK Championship came and went without me making a dent really. It was shame to be honest as I played some really good stuff in York and always get good support there. In my match that I lost to Marco Fu, the standard of play was very high. In fact, John Virgo came up to me a few days ago and said he still hasn’t worked out how I lost that one.
Thanks John!! The New Year came and went and I was due to play in the Championship League at Crondon Park but I had to withdraw due to illness, a first for me. I was quite worried too as that tournament is always a good chance to play your way into form ahead of The Masters. Instead of that matchplay practice, I had to stay in bed and watch Friends re runs on Comedy Central.
Not a complete catastrophe by any stretch but not ideal prep for the second biggest event we have. We went down to the Ally Pally for The Masters in good shape though and looking forward to playing my old mate Mark Selby in the first round. Nice draw cheers. Within no time I’d raced into a 5-1 lead but Mark did what he does best and dug in, to level at 5-5 and take us into a final frame showdown. Some start to the tournament eh? As it happened, I managed to come out of it a 6-5 winner and I think, looking back, this win gave me the belief that I could go on and win the whole thing. Victories followed against Maguire and Allen, and I was back in the final against Neil Robertson, who’d beaten me in the final a few years back. Now Neil was coming off an amazing semi-final win against the Rocket and so I knew I’d have my hands full. Anyone that beats Ronnie in any event must be playing somewhere near they’re best. That’s how good he is. But even I couldn’t believe what happened next. I knew I was playing well but didn’t see that 10-2 win coming. I’ve played Neil so many times when I thought I was going to win, or give him a good game, only to lose and sometimes lose badly, so to win that one like that, and complete the Triple Crown of BBC Majors was a dream come true. Especially when I look back to the Masters a year ago when having lost to Selby in the semi’s I very seriously looked into leaving snooker all together. All I can say is thank you to my friends and family who together with my coach Chris Henry got around me and helped me through that difficult time.
After the Masters and everything that followed it was back to the table. A final in the German Masters and some good play in the remaining tournaments of the season took us all back to the Crucible in Sheffield for the World Snooker Championship. Arriving in Sheffield for the Snooker is the same every year. There’s an incredible buzz around that event, more so than any other and it seemed this was no different. We had the Paul Hunter Golf Day at The Hallamshire GC on the Thursday before the tournament started and just before we played, the draw for the snooker was made. After what seemed an age I was drawn to play Robin Hull and that’s when it felt that the tournament was just a few days away. It’s always a bit hard getting ready for a match if you don’t know who you’re going to play. Of course in snooker it actually doesn’t matter who you play but it’s just in our nature as competitive sports people to need to have an opponent’s name there next to yours to make it feel real. Our first round match was one of the last to start and that was a bit strange too. Never before have I had to wait so long get started in the Worlds but after a few days watching it at home I was itching to get started. When Robin and I walked out to play our game it was like a big weight had been lifted, no more waiting, now let’s get on with it. Looking back now I think I played some really good stuff, probably the best snooker I’ve played at Sheffield and victories against Robin, Joe Perry, Anthony McGill and Barry Hawkins took me into my third World final. After 15 days of competition, watching and playing, some might say or feel that getting yourself up for that match is hard enough. But not me, I was buzzing for it. Everything felt right for the game. Chris and I were making sure that all areas of my game were in good order practising at The Crucible in the little practise room there as much as we could. The intros into the final were just as I’d remembered if not better and soon we’d started the game. The problem was that Stuart Bingham was on his own personal mission, probably a little bit like I was in 2005. He was unstoppable beating Robbie Williams, Graeme Dott, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump to get to the final and as I said earlier, anyone that beats the Rocket is playing near their best.
Somewhere in the second session I was 8-4 up but Stuart just kept on rolling, like he had all tournament and by the time the final session started I was behind. The excitement before that final Monday night session of the World Championship is what every snooker player dreams of feeling. |t’s addictive. I was ready for the challenge and went into the game that night ready for something special. Unfortunately for me, Stuart was the one with the final trick up his sleeve, and a few hours later he was crowned the World Champion. During the presentations, after-party at the hotel and the days that have followed it’s been much easier to take than previous losses. As I said earlier it’s been my best season ever with wins in Bulgaria, Germany and The Masters to complete the Triple Crown. There was also a 147 in there somewhere and in the end I was three frames short of winning the World Championship for the second time. So I’m not going to let being the runner up ruin what’s been a great year for me. Stuart and I are good mates and to be honest if I’d been watching at home I probably would’ve been shouting him on. I know how much he loves the game, how much he’s sacrificed and also what a great ambassador for snooker he has been and will be this year as our Champion, so well done mate, and enjoy every second at home with that beautiful trophy.
So that’s it, another season over. I’ve already been out trying a few local golf courses now I’ve moved to Nottingham and yesterday we had the annual World Snooker Golf Day at Celtic Manor. I thought shooting 74 gross would get me in the prizes but again no. Looks like May isn’t going to be my month! I’m snookering a lot this month too with exhibitions up and down the country and a couple in Europe, so with that and a lot of practise I’ll be ready for the season opener in Australia. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the Youtube channel so far too, and please rest assured that more content is on its way soon.
Thanks must also go to all my team for their continued hard work on and off the table. Chris, Brandon, Tony and Rich thanks for everything so far and here’s to more of the same in the coming 15/16 season. But the biggest thank you must be to you guys that log on and read, watch and tweet. Your support is what it’s all about and I’ll never forget that. I think I have the best supporters out there and I’ll be doing my best to bring you all some more silverware in the coming months.
Until next time, enjoy the off season and see you soon