Time for Sheffield!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Some pre-Worlds thoughts for you. In the days leading up to the championship, every year I always feel that thrill of excitement about returning to the Crucible and, of course, it’s no different this time around.


It’s an absolute honour to be part of it and what always hits you is that sense of history and heritage surrounding the Crucible. For forty years our biggest tournament has been going there and, on returning, I think about how this is the venue where many of snooker’s most memorable moments have unfolded.

Higgins calling for his baby after winning in 1982, Thorburn’s maximum a year later, Dennis and Davis in the epic black-ball final, Ronnie’s five-minutes-and-20-seconds 147 – they all took place in that special, intimate arena on that hallowed stage. And every year, a lucky 32 of us have our chance to maybe be part of something equally as historic.

So, as always, it will be a privilege to walk out into the unique Crucible atmosphere on Easter Sunday for the start of my first-round match. I can’t wait to play and feel my preparations have gone well. I’ve been working very hard on my game in between events in 2017, not least since the China Open. I’ve practised quite a bit with one of the game’s rising stars, Kyren Wilson. I’m also having Mark Allen come to stay for a day or two just so as we can fine-tune everything before Sheffield.

I’ve been practising on my own a lot, too...long-potting, safety play and break-building. My aim has been to work on developing a style of play that tips the balance in my favour. I’m known for a certain style, based around going for my shots. I may still take on that long pot from baulk but I will be playing it with one eye on what may happen if it were to go wrong. Too often over the years, if I’ve missed I’ve left my opponent in the scoring zone.

A good example of that was last year’s defeat at Sheffield to Ant McGill. As part of my preparation, I recently watched it back and I must have handed him on a plate five frames where I went all out attack with little to no thought regarding defence. It looks good and is exciting for the crowd but, ultimately, I don’t want to be watching the tournament unfold from my sofa – I want to be involved in it.

I will retain that aggressive style but there is a fine line between attack and defence, going for your shots and being silly. I’m aware that players try and keep the balls close as long as possible, aiming to shift the balance of power towards their half. The top tacticians – and we all know who they are – are very capable of keeping the balls quite tight if that is what favours them. I have to find a way to remain competitive in such situations without it becoming a full-on battle in the trenches.

I’m always trying to develop and improve my game and while I may never be a Ray Reardon master of the tactical side, I am keen to really tidy up that element to my snooker. If I do that, there will hopefully be more days in the sun to sit alongside the ones I’ve had in the past.

One thing I don’t know yet is who my opponent will be. The final round of qualifiers is still taking place and I’m just very grateful that top-16 status secures a place at the Crucible. The conditions and environment at the qualifiers are a great leveller and it is a brutal school to battle through.

Right, that’s enough from me. I better get back to the practice table. Hope to see you plenty of you at the Crucible over the coming days (and weeks, hopefully!).One thing’s for sure, I’ll really appreciate your support.

Cheers for now...

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