Friday 20 September 2019

My Rocket shock has nothing to do with my uncle Stephen - Cahill

‘It doesn’t get any better than this,’ said Crucible hero James Cahill. Photo by George Wood/Getty Images
‘It doesn’t get any better than this,’ said Crucible hero James Cahill. Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

Hector Nunns

James Cahill was best known as 'Stephen Hendry's nephew' before he fell out of the professional tour two years ago. But a sensational victory over title favourite Ronnie O'Sullivan at the World Championship will ensure the 23-year-old is seen from now on as a player in his own right.

The first amateur ever to appear in the first round at the Crucible, Cahill (right) showed swagger rarely seen in a debutant to exploit a string of uncharacteristic errors from the five-time champion and secure a famous 10-8 win. A 750/1 title shot last week, he will resume his pro career in June with burgeoning self-confidence.

"I am over the moon, to beat the best player in the world and hold myself together on my Crucible debut," said Cahill. "It doesn't get any better than that. I got frames just when it looked like Ronnie might be getting back into his flow. He is under a lot of pressure out there himself, he doesn't want to lose to me. I have so much respect for Ronnie and he is my idol. But you can't have too much respect or you can't beat them, you need that belief."

Cahill's mother Maria is the sister of Hendry's former wife Amanda. Having reached the tournament by winning three tough qualifiers, he insisted that any success he was enjoying owed little to his illustrious uncle by marriage.

"Stephen Hendry - I will always have that connection to him because he was married to my auntie," said Cahill. "It is not the worst connection in the world but I have proved now I can do it on the big stage so I don't think I have anything left to prove.

Shame

"Unfortunately, Stephen hasn't had a lot to do with my career, it is a bit of a shame. I used to go up to Scotland play in their house, his son Blaine is a good friend. I played a couple of frames and asked him for some help but he didn't seem interested, that is the best way to describe it. So I don't owe anything to Stephen, I owe it all to my family, sponsors and coaches."

Cahill is not the first youngster to struggle to establish himself on a brutally competitive tour of 128 players. There were just three wins in 2013-'14, but he had a big win over China's Ding Junhui the following season. He lost his professional status in 2017 - but after taking seven months out, Cahill returned to the fray more determined than ever.

Results as a top-up player, making up the numbers if any of the 128 professionals withdrew or chose not to enter a tournament, had earned Cahill a return to the professional ranks before yesterday's tour de force. Those successes included a shock win over then world No 1 Mark Selby at the UK Championship in York.

"I just need to keep playing world No 1s! I could see Ronnie wasn't playing well, but I always felt he could get on a roll. He started to miss balls you don't expect him to miss."

Though Cahill's path to a successful career now looks clearer, as well as his on-table challenges, there have been life lessons learned.

In 2015 he was banned from driving for a year for drink-driving over an incident in Perth when he was called by Hendry's son Blaine from the police station - arrested for the same offence - to pick him up. Cahill himself then failed a test.

"Like everything in life, you have to learn from it," said Cahill.

And earlier this month there was a scare as his home club in Preston, owned by the family, was broken in to. The office was smashed up and money stolen, but amazingly Cahill's cue was left untouched in the corner.

O'Sullivan has defied his 43 years to win five tournaments this season and again become world No 1. It made the shock both at his performance and demeanour especially acute.

"He played like he didn't want to be there," said Steve Davis, the six-time world champion.

"He was bailing out on some shots, just by attacking all the time... as if you are hoping to be knocked out, in a strange way."

Yesterday's shock was all the more vast as O'Sullivan has defied his 43 years and won five tournaments this season and again become world No 1.

"He played like he didn't want to be there," said Steve Davis, the six-time world champion.

"He was bailing out on some shots, just by attacking all the time . . . as if you are hoping to be knocked out, in a strange way."

O'Sullivan's great strength in recent years has been a rare determination to identify ways of improving, whether by working with the psychiatrist Prof Steve Peters or nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert. He suggested that the problem was physical rather than mental and specifically referenced a lack of sleep. "The last two years, I have been sleeping a bit better and so when you have a spell when you don't sleep well, you feel it," he said.

"I'd rather have full-on insomnia - your body adapts. I haven't been sleeping great. My limbs feel like lead. I feel horrendous, struggling to stay awake."

He even struggled to keep his eyes open in the interview. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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