Hendry wins title in the final frame
DESPITE his often declared enthusiasm for the venue, Goffs has not always been the happiest of places or world champion Stephen Hendry. Last night, however, he improved his previously poor record in the Benson and Hedges Irish Masters with a nailbiting 9-8 victory over Darren Morgan in a match that went all the way to the final back ball.
It was Hendry's 11th successive victory in a major final since he lost here in the 1995 decider to Peter Ebdon and it was earned with a wonderfully calm nerve through the closing stages from the Scotsman who, more than once during the evening session, seemed likely to have to settle for the runners up cheque.
Even at the start of the colours in the last frame, Morgan seemed to be capable of retaining his title, but he was repeatedly struck by misfortune through the closing stages. With one red left on the table, the match seemed to be at his mercy but, having put it away, he tracked a few inches too far and was left an unattractive choice of shots before moving on to the yellow.
In retrospect, he admitted afterwards, playing a snooker might have been the wisest choice for the Welshman, but instead he took on the pink, missed it and allowed Hendry in to clear up to take the frame by 70 points to 56 as well as the £72,000 first prize.
"I should have rolled the ball up behind the blue but I felt I was playing well so I went for it. It was a terrible mistake and really now I'd prefer to have lost the match 9-1 than to have allowed it to get away from me like that," said the defeated champion. The Welshman felt his failure, combined with his slide down the rankings, is likely to cost him his place in next season's event but, he added, "I came here hoping to win a match and I've played in the final so I suppose I have to be happy really".
Hendry, meanwhile, proudly displaying the trophy that came with his 64th major championship victory in 80 finals, admitted to having been rattled by his opponent's fightback from 6-3 down to 7-6 up and said that there had been "several occasions" when he had thought the match was slipping away from him.
"Darren was playing out of his skin, some of the pots he produced were astonishing but I've always said that I play my best snooker in finals, I actually feel more relaxed in them than in first round matches, and I'm delighted to have come through in the end."
A far more comfortable victory for the Scot had seemed likely when he raced into a lead and even more when he took the first two frames of the second session to 6-3 ahead.
After a terrible season though, in which he has suffered a succession of setbacks, both professional and personal, Morgan held his game together remarkably well and, having produced a string of moderately sized breaks to draw level at six apiece, the 30 year old Welshman brought the final to life with an 80 in the 13th frame that edged him in front for the very first time.
His win here 12 months ago represents Morgan's only major career title but, having regained the slender advantage with a well constructed 69 in frame 15, he appeared, briefly, to be on the point of making it tournament victory number two in the next.
The Welshman scored first but it was Hendry who seemed to be in control until missing a straightforward red into the corner. It appeared to be a gilt edged opportunity for Morgan, but after potting only one red and pink, he returned the favour and this time there were no slip ups from the sport's leading player, who put together a neat break of 46 to force the match into the decider.