Snooker’s dwindling playing pool means Ken Doherty still Ireland’s main draw

Dubliner heads into Thursday’s UK Championship opener still the face of Irish snooker

In McSorley’s in Ranelagh there’s a shrine dedicated to one of the village’s most famous sons.

From newspaper cuttings showing him lifting trophies and posing alongside Paul McGrath, to the green waistcoat worn during Malta Cup victory in 2006, the pub's Ken Doherty room is a mini-museum dedicated to the former world champion.

McSorley’s is his local and his mother still lives up the road so it’s hardly a surprise the pub is a Doherty-den, but look outside of Dublin 6 and he remains the biggest name and most recognisable face in Irish snooker.

On Thursday Doherty plays his first round match in the UK Championship against 22-year-old Birmingham native Mitchell Mann, but he is more likely to be observing the latter stages of the competition from the commentary box than be on the baize.


So why is it 17 years after he won the World Championship he remains the biggest draw in Irish snooker? Why has nobody else broken through?

“It’s disappointing,” said Ken, “I would have loved to have seen some younger guys push through.

“I think during the boom of the 90s property became so expensive snooker clubs started to die out. Other sports like golf and rugby and soccer went into a different stratosphere and kids were struggling to find places to play snooker.

“They’ve got the same problem in UK where a lot of clubs are closing down. Rileys who had 150 clubs went into administration and had to close about 50 clubs last year alone. So it’s not only happening in Ireland but I think certainly the boom and the huge cost of floor space had a very negative impact.”

Doherty has tried to combat the issue of a lack of clubs by opening and running one of his own, but putting the name of a local world champion above the door doesn’t guarantee young people will come in and play.

“I opened a club up in Terenure and we’re finding it difficult trying to attract enough players and particularly the younger players.

“I did a show on Setanta trying to find a young prodigy and there is a lot of talent out there - we unearthed some real gems. There’s a young guy called Aaron Goldrick in Cavan, one up in Derry called Jason O’Hagan, and in the Cork area there’s a lot of good young players because they’ve got one really good club down there.

“But it’s nothing compared to when I started off. You could go into the city and there’d be five clubs where you’d always get a game. And locally there was Jason’s in Ranelagh but that’s closed down now, like most have.”

While snooker has had the life progressively squeezed out of it over here, the sport is booming elsewhere, particularly in China.

“It is proving popular in China because firstly they have always loved watching the game,” said Doherty.

“They have Ding Junhui who is in the top five sportspeople in the whole country, and when you have one and a half billion people who know who you are it attracts a lot of kids to the sport.

“And I think they are fascinated with the strategy of the game. They love strategic games and a lot of them love to gamble. Snooker is a great sport for them to gamble on amongst themselves, playing each other for points or for money.

“There are 65 million registered players in the whole of China which is equivalent to the population of the UK which shows you the strength of the sport over there.”

So what needs to happen to increase participation here? Doherty believes the answer lies in schools.

He said: "What I would love to do and what the Republic of Ireland Billiard and Snooker Association (RIBSA) and World Snooker Coach Dan Carroll are trying to do is to get tables that were in houses and old clubs and try and put them into schools.

“I put two tables into my old school in Westland Row and it’s proved a great success. Kids who normally wouldn’t always show up for school are in at 8.30am knocking on the door to see if they can get in and have a game before lessons start.”

Until a new wave of talent does come through, though, Doherty continues to be Ireland’s flagship snooker player.

And what about Thursday, is there any chance of a decent run in York? “I don’t know much about Mitchell Mann to be honest,” he said.

“If you drop your guard you can come unstuck but I’m a bit long in the tooth to be doing that. Hopefully I can have a good run at it.”

Irish involvement in UK Championship first round

November 26th

Ding Junhui (Chn) 6-0 John Sutton (Ire)

Fergal O’Brien (Ire) v Igor Figueiredo (Bra)

November 27th

Ken Doherty (Ire) v Mitchell Mann (Eng)

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is a former sports journalist with The Irish Times