I have to start by admitting that I love the sport of pool and play it myself (badly), prefer Blackball rules to any other, and that I have been associated with the IPA (www.ipapool.com) for over a decade now, so Yes, my report is undoubtedly biased – but so what?
The IPA Tour started in Newcastle last weekend for the 2023 season and what I like best about it is simple enough – these are the very best players in action, but there is no “them and us” – everyone is welcomed into the IPA family, everyone is treated the same – and everyone is there for the craic away from the table when the opportunity arises. Don’t let that take away from the standard for a moment, the players are simply different gravy to those I lose to down the pub each week and when their heads are down in battle mode, no quarter is given, but you rarely see a tantrum from a loser, handshakes and post-match discussions are the order of the day.
As the first event of the five set out for 2023 we saw a major change with an Elite, Open and Amateur event for the Ladies to match up to the Professional, Open, and Amateurs that have always been in place, and that in itself attracted more women players than ever before which can only be a positive for the sport. Friday saw the early rounds tick by in most events but it all sparked into life on Saturday evening as we had both the European Ladies Elite Final and the European Professional Final, one after the other. Deb Burchell (my tip, by the way) faced off against Rhiannon Graham in the first ever elite event, and although she put up a brave fight, it was the more experienced Deb Burchell who took the title 7-3 though if Rhiannon learns from this, I am sure we will see her in more finals over the months ahead.
On to the Professionals next and despite valiant runs by both Michael Tomlinson and Rob Donkin, it was previous World Champion Gareth Hibbott and current holder Clint I’Anson who would fight it out in the final. History tells us that World Champions have regularly failed to step up for the following season, perhaps they are now seen as a bigger target, but Clint is cut from a very different cloth with his calm attitude added to his pool abilities making him a tough player to beat. Although it wasn’t quite one way traffic, Clint came home the victor by a score of 10-2 and laid down his marker for the rest of the year.
Moving on to Sunday as we still had plenty of action to work with, and the Amateurs were first on the TV table (or as I like to call them, trainee professionals). Those who fought their way through a massive field to get to the semi-finals all deserve a mention so hats off to Wayne Fryer and Lee Shepherd who bowed out at the last hurdle, leaving Matt Schofield and Nicky Griffiths (again, my selection), to fight out the final. We expected a tightly forced contest, and so it proved as the race to seven came down to a one frame shootout which was taken out with some skill by Nicky to take the title, though I can confidently say we will see a lot more of all four mentioned over the rest of the season.
Next up was the Ladies Amateur, and the beginning of a year long battle for the chance to be promoted to Elite status next season and beyond. Kirsty Clugston was a player we were all looking out for after her breakout efforts at the Worlds this year, and she will win events this season with her determination and game, but on this occasion, it was Alice Paylor who came out on top 5-3 after an enthralling and well-matched contest, and I won’t be making the mistake of underestimating her chances again in 2023.
The Ladies Open rounded off their weekend and the competition was evident throughout with both semi-finals going to a last frame decider, and so it proved in the final as well. Despite trading frames throughout, this proved a bridge too far for Megan Proctor who was beaten 6-5 by Yvonne Ewing after a tense 11th frame, showcasing the Ladies game at it’s very best and suggesting we are on for one heck of a season.
Last but not least we had the Open final to round off the weekend, and with seven of the eight in the quarter finals coming from the professional ranks, the cream rose to the top as it often does. That man Gareth Hibbott saw off J J Faul 8-7 to get to his second final of the weekend which is some achievement, while Cory Rees, who had come back from a seemingly impossible position against Matt Steeper in his quarter final then beat Clint I’Anson to join him in our very last match. No one I spoke to felt they could call the winner of this one with Gareth in great form and Cory seen by many as a future number one, but things rarely pan out as you think, and Cory played some sublime pool to come home tee 8-2 victor to land his first event of the new year.
In conclusion we had six trophies up for grabs, and with six different winners the evidence is there that the IPA Pool tour is in a very healthy place right now, with sell-out events and cueists of the highest quality – and better still we remain open to all, so if you fancy your chances, head off to www.ipapool.com and enter our next event (Coventry 26th to 28th May).