“Professional 8 Ball Pool Masters made the weekend for both players and fans” writes your “Ringside” Reporter.
Yesterday saw the last sixteen matches draw to a very late close but all day today (Sunday), we had the remaining matches and by now people were starting to salivate at the prospect of a cool £10,000 first prize – nice work if you can get it?
Firstly, I need to point out that I do not know any of the players nor do I play myself at this level, so I come here unbiased and with no loyalties but a slight (very slight) knowledge of the game, and we all know a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing!
With no insult intended to anyone or any frame yesterday the quality noticeably improved.
and our first match saw the ever popular Phil Harrison taking on Welsh wonder Ben Davies, a late replacement for the injured Mick Hill. Cinderella did not get to the ball this time though as the fairytale of a replacement winner failed to come true as Phil triumphed pretty comfortably to be honest with a 9-3 scoreline.
Ben Flack v Chris Melling saw the crowds swell for what looked (apparently) likely to be the match of the round and so it proved with some frankly amazing pool that most of us (well, me), can only dream of. The breaks were not as productive as either player would normally expect (with Chris suffering more than most), but once again the game was played in a very sporting manner with Chris calling a double hit on himself that could have possibly gone unspotted. In a nutshell, they basically traded blows with Ben on top in the early frames and Chris pulling it back until at 8-8 we had the obligatory one frame decider. Chris had the break but no one was convinced that was an advantage, but lo and behold, he only went and potted one before running through the rack for a 9-8 win, though this really was one of those matches where no one deserved to lose.
Ronan McCarthy v James Croxton were up next and having watched them both play yesterday it looked like irresistible force meeting an immovable object and one I wouldn’t want to second guess. As a betting man (why can’t I bet on pool for goodness sake?), I would have guessed at a very tight contest and so it proved early doors as they pretty much traded frames up to 5-5, so we effectively moved on to a race to four! Calling it at this stage was beyond my little brain but I would not have guessed at four frames in a row for the man from Northern Ireland as he ran out a 9-5 winner, though to be fair the scoreline was perhaps a little flattering and unfair on his opponent.
One to go saw Blackpool’s finest in Lee Clough, take on Aiden Finch in another mouth watering clash that saw a decent crowd once again. The both looked a little nervous in frame one but then that is hardly surprising though Lee took that only for Aiden to bounce straight back and level the match. I honestly expected it to be give and take after that but Lee moved up a gear and Aiden was not the same man as I saw yesterday, and a 9-2 score line (largely by keeping Aiden off the table with break and dish tactics), resulted, and the semi final line up was complete.
Chris Melling v Phil Harrison was a blast from the past for me (I bet they wont like that comment?), as I remember watching them both when pool had more television coverage (as it deserves), and I freely confess I ran off to get a decent view to make sure I didn’t miss a single moment. Once again it looked a bit like nerves to me in the first frame as both players missed what they would have considered cast iron chances, before an unlucky foul gave Chris a winning opportunity that he gladly grabbed with both hands. Phil bounced straight back winning the next two frames for a 2-1 lead, but amazingly that was the last time he bothered the scorers, steam rollered 9-2 by a bang in form Mr Melling. To be fair, Phil had one of those nights when what could go wrong did go wrong with balls dropping that were meant to cover pockets, and balls rattling that needed to go, but as usual he left the arena with a smile on his face and will be back to fight another day.
The second semi final was expected to be a touch more tactical with Ronan McCarthy taking on Lee Clough but with Chris Melling and/or a massive cheque awaiting later in the evening the pressure was really on. It looked on paper as if it would be really close and so it proved with neither player dominating and at no stage was anyone more than a couple of frames in front, so a real toe to toe slugging match ensued. Once we reached 7-7 the nerves did understandably begin to kick in for both players, but it was Lee who came out on top crawling over the finishing line for a 9-7 success that saw both players give their all, a fact appreciated by the knowledgeable crowd.
As a fan, my newest fear was that both finalists had given there all to get this far, how could they possibly have anything left for another best of seventeen contest, a race to nine, could this be a disappointment and not the feast of quality pool we had all come to see? With thousands watching via live streaming, Sky cameras recording, a fascinated crows, and a winners cheque and trophy the pressure was really on but to my surprise, the style and swagger was still there not to mention the ability. Once again, there was so little to choose between them that the crowd were absolutely hooked from start to finish and despite the late hour, I did not see one single person get up and leave or even powder their nose until an official break. Early frames seemed to be leaning slightly the way of Chris Melling as he sneaked in to an early lead after some spectacular potting but he never managed to get away from a dogged Lee Clough who managed to hang in there and weather the storm with some classy pressurised clearances of his own when needed. We were all too enthralled to notice the early hour and there was no sign that the long day was affecting the players as nothing seemed set to separate them with 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, and 5-5 all slipping by, leaving us with a best of seven remaining after a long weekend of 8 ball. As Chris went 6-5 and 7-5 up I really felt it was all wrapped up, after all, at this stage Lee had never been more than one frame up throughout the match, but then I had not allowed for his focus and tenacity. 7-5 soon became 7-6, 7-7, 7-8, and amazingly (under intense pressure) 7-9 and we had a 2012 Professional 8 Ball Pool Masters Champion. Ever the gentleman, Lee acknowledged the need for a bit of luck as it could so easily have gone either way with a few defining moments, but at the end of the day we cannot take anything away from a worthy winner – well done Lee Clough!
Personally, I learnt a lot from the weekend – that the best pool players in the World are approachable, that honesty and integrity remains in pool (not just golf), and that the elite players take the game to the next level – back to the practice table for me then before my next match in the local league…….