Snooker: O'Brien's integrity proves his downfall
Three days after English golfer Brian Davis demonstrated that sportsmanship is alive and kicking, Fergal O'Brien's integrity also shone through at the World Championship here in Sheffield yesterday.
Dubliner O'Brien lost his first-round match 10-5 to highly rated Australian Neil Robertson, having called a foul on himself at a pivotal stage of a marathon 13th frame that ultimately proved key.
Davis did something similar to effectively lose a sudden-death play-off against Jim Furyk in South Carolina on Sunday and O'Brien's decision was equally praiseworthy.
Having trailed 6-3 following Tuesday's first session, O'Brien tapped into his trademark stubborn streak to win the opening two frames on the restart.
Robertson stole the 12th on the black for 7-5 before O'Brien's laudable exhibition of honesty. Towards the tail end of frame 13, O'Brien informed referee Michaela Tabb that he had fouled on the green, bridging over a black. Subsequent replays suggested that no contact with the black had been made.
The seven penalty points proved costly as O'Brien eventually potted blue, pink and black, but only to tie the scores at 70-70, resulting in a respotted black.
O'Brien's luck was again out when he lost the coin toss. Robertson asked him to break, O'Brien double kissed the black over a corner pocket and Robertson had the simplest of tasks to increase his lead to 8-5.
Robertson suddenly caught fire and, assisted by breaks of 83, 30 and 59, set up a last-16 meeting with Martin Gould, the surprise 10-9 first-round conqueror of Hong Kong's Marco Fu.
O'Brien insisted he did not regret owning up to the pivotal foul.
"I thought I caught it with my cue. When you do that you always tell the ref. If I hadn't, my brain would've been all over the place. I know I would've lost concentration," he said, now sure to surrender his top-32 status in the world rankings next season.
"Of course I'm really disappointed to lose but apart from a brief spell at the start of the second session I never really hit form. I always keep fighting, no matter what, but that wasn't good enough."
O'Brien is now hoping that Barry Hearn's plans to revolutionise snooker and intensify the tour schedule will be ratified at an upcoming EGM.
"We've had six world ranking tournaments this season and that is a joke. You feel like a part-time player," said the 38-year-old. "Hopefully when Barry unveils his plans we'll be a lot busier. If you have a bad season with 20 tournaments that's your fault, you can't have any complaints."
O'Brien's departure and Sunday's 10-4 defeat for Ken Doherty by Mark Selby leaves Antrim's Mark Allen as the sole Irish hope to collect the £250,000 first prize on May 3.
Allen, impressive en route to beating Tom Ford 10-4 in round one, returns to action this afternoon a red-hot favourite to overcame Mark Davis, a qualifier who scored a shock 10-8 victory over No 6 seed Ryan Day yesterday.