We are back with another review, though I thought it might be nice to start with a mention for those behind the scenes whose efforts can and even should go unnoticed – I am talking about our referees. The IPA are proud and delighted to have the very best 8 ball referees available in Scott McMillan, Ben Taylor-Fuente, and Brian Moss, who have, to the best of my knowledge, not put a foot wrong so far despite the pressure of the surroundings. They don’t get the recognition they deserve precisely because they are invisible – they don’t look for or steal the limelight, they know the rules inside out, and the players respect their decisions, and I know the players are all grateful for their professionalism. We need to remember they are an integral part of “the show”, and perhaps deserving of an interview in their own right at some time during the rest of the tournament?
On to the pool itself and a slightly different week as we had to finish off the first round on Monday before moving straight on to the last sixteen from Tuesday onwards. All those in action knew by now the high stakes involved as we welcomed Luke Johnson, Darrell Whitworth, Rikki Jones, and Matty Rowland to the big-time ahead of their Sportystuff tv debuts in the IPA Champions Cup. The winner on the day already knew they would be playing on the Tuesday, which was an added incentive, as we watched a perfect blend of tactics, clearances, outrageous shots, and head-scratching snookers, but it was Darrell and Rikki who went through to the evening final, winning 6-3 and 6-5 in a last frame decider, respectively. Darrell had looked the one who handled the conditions the better throughout, and he carried that through to the evening session to win 7-3 and go to sleep knowing he was on against Robert Stephen the following afternoon.
After the table was reclothed by Alan Yates from 8 Ball Direct (thanks Alan), the action got underway at 2.30pm on Tuesday and once again, it was Darrel Whitworth who adapted to the faster table to take out the former snooker professional 6-4 but not before going down 0-4 before an amazing comeback, and then sitting back and awaiting the winner of Ross Fernie and Craig Brown. Ross had taken out the number one seed Liam Dunster in the very first match and continued in the same sort of form with a 6-2 victory, before a few of hours off to reflect before the evening finale. Sadly for Darrell, who has been the surprise of the tournament so far, that proved to be a step too far as he went down 7-3 to Ross, whose odds tumbled all day to win the tournament overall.
On Wednesday, it was “get your money’s worth” day with Mark Boyle against Chris Bowron and Andy Croasdale against Jason Rimington, and if you ever want a pool masterclass, watch both matches. Of course there were misses (can you imagine the pressure), but there were more successful shots than I could even dream of (and some I couldn’t even think of), with both games going to a final frame, before Mark and then Andy fell over the line. We all knew the final would be something special and so it proved with Mark the dominating force in the early frames, leading 4-0, 5-1, and 6-2, but only he will know if a time foul (correctly) called against him put him off, as Andy showed bells of steel to claw it back from 6-2 to 6-6 and another final frame shootout. I have been watching pool for too many years, but this was one of the most enthralling matches I have ever seen (if you go to the IPAs Facebook page there are some replays there), though somehow Mark managed to dig deep in the final frame and go through 7-6. Hats off to Andy for some of the most amazing shots and cue ball control I have ever witnessed, you were a joy to watch, and more tournaments are certainly within you grasp.
Next week we see three more days of top-class action, and on Monday it continues to get serious with some frankly ridiculous line-ups. We start with a battle between 2016 World Champion Gareth Hibbott and current World Champion Jon McAllister, closely followed by 2019 World Champion Marc Farnsworth and Dan Davy in what must be seen as the group of death. On Tuesday we have Ronan McCarthy versus Jordan Shepherd and then Arfan Dad against Jimmy Carney – before a re-draw ahead of the semi-finals on Saturday (2.30pm) and the long-awaited final on Sunday (also 2.30pm) – enjoy every moment, I know I will.