Sunday 22 April 2018

Snooker: Doherty fancies his chances of reliving old glories at the Crucible

David Kelly

David Kelly

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, someone sang once. Last week, David Duval teed off at Augusta's 13th on practice day and, just after crossing the Nelson bridge, he plonked himself on the green sward.

He just wanted to wallow. Azaleas and dogwoods filled his senses for the first time since his last visit, some four years earlier. You gotta smell the flowers. Ben Hogan sang that one.

Ken Doherty knows how Duval felt.

Once top of the world -- temporarily ranked No 1 in 2007/08 -- Doherty's confidence seeped through the cracks in the floor and last year, for the first time in 16 stagings, the gladiatorial tuxedoed combat in the city of steel took place without the Ranelagh cueman.

He watched it on his home sofa and hated it. He watched it on the BBC sofa and hated it. That used to be me, he seethed silently to himself. And then he got to thinking hey, that can still be me!

"This is what it's all about and once you can get there anything can happen," says the 1997 champion and runner-up in '98 and 2003 as he returns to the game's elite, facing a tough encounter against Mark Selby, beginning this evening and concluding tomorrow (BBC interactive has uninterrupted live coverage). "The Crucible to me is like Augusta or Wimbledon. It's our FA Cup final, our Heineken Cup final. It can inspire you or inhibit you. I've loads of memories there, some good, some bad."

Commentating for the BBC last year shovelled many of those memories back into the present.

"It was horrible working there. Sure, it was still nice to be around but I was just putting myself through the ringer," he recalls. "It's very difficult not to be part of it. The commentary is done out of boredom really, I'd still be watching it anyway. At least I'm there, having fun with the lads. I'd be a pain to be with at home, at my wit's end.

"The final was tough, all the music and the players coming down the steps, I mean it was only 2003 when I was last in the final. I'm thinking 'this was me', but also then 'this can be me'. I didn't want to sit on my couch this year."

Doherty had slumped so low in the ratings game that this year it needed two games for him to qualify for each of the tour's limited number (six) of ranking events; ironically, that extra game acted as a buffer for his flailing confidence.

Slowly, renewing the habit of winning boosted flagging self-assurance. To qualify for Sheffield, he would have to beat Jimmy White and Joe Swail, two good pals of his and two players who were also struggling with their game. It wasn't pretty, although Doherty cruised through both contests.

Like the poker games he occasionally plays, Doherty didn't look at his opponents. "You don't see their faces," he says. "You can't. It's just business."

You ask why he cares. He has a nice pad in Rathgar, a budding media career and most of all, a devoted family. Why give a damn? Asking the question pierces the very raison d'etre of the competitive sportsman.

"I do care because I love the game. I know Christian (his son) has come along but it doesn't take away my focus. If anything, I'd like to think he'd inspire me to do even better so he can see me lifting something rather than having to dust down old video tapes!


"I do care. I have a great desire to be successful, I've alot to give to the game. I don't want to go out with a whimper, I want to go out with a bang. I watch these other players and I think I can beat these guys. I can win tournaments.

"I still dedicate time to the game. I do media work but this year, players have had a lot of time between tournaments. You need stuff to fill your time because you'd go mad otherwise. That's why I did the BBC, but if anyone got the impression that I was doing that because I didn't have the desire, they couldn't be further from the truth. When I look in the top 16, I see players I'm not afraid of.

"People are entitled to question me and I understand why they might ask that. But I still believe I'm good enough to compete at the top. As long as I believe that, I'm very, very competitive."

Just ask the lads he plays indoor soccer with on Monday nights. He still wakes up screaming at the thoughts of a famous missed black in Wembley that cost him his only competitive 147.

Doherty also still fears for the game's future; terrestrial viewing figures may have eclipsed the classic Ashes series and Federer-Nadal finals in recent times but the arrival of Barry Hearn may give the game the boost it sorely needs.

"I'm delighted he's come in and he may grab the game by the scruff of the neck. He's the right man for the job and you could see a million-pound winner of the world championship.

"I just want to listen to what he has in mind because I wouldn't like to see the game sold down the river. The game is ultimately owned by the players. But I'd like to think he'd have something to offer and I'm fully behind him. The game needs a buzz."

Doherty has his own buzz back. Maybe life does begin at 40.

"Age is no barrier. I may have thought that a few years ago but not any more. Look at Tom Watson, Fred Couples. Phil Taylor is unbeatable in darts.

"The only barrier is between your head in sports like ours. I'm an underdog and I'm just going to enjoy it, play some good snooker and not talk myself up. I've nothing to lose."

And he'll remember to smell the flowers on the way.

"Steve Davis is still here at 52. I'm only 40! I'm not an old man just yet."

World Snooker Championship, live, Eurosport, BBC Interactive, from 10am

Irish Independent

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