Ranelagh man at home with himself, his scar and old cue

IN A SPORT which trades heavily on image, be it flawless coiffure, patent leather shoes or silk waistcoats, Ken Doherty has remained…

IN A SPORT which trades heavily on image, be it flawless coiffure, patent leather shoes or silk waistcoats, Ken Doherty has remained true to his roots.

Disarmingly natural and tired of home thoughts from abroad, the newly crowned world champion abandoned London earlier this season to move back to Ranelagh. Where it all began.

Home with his widowed mother and among his boyhood pals, Doherty rediscovered the strength of will to conquer the Crucible. It was the sort of ease and self awareness which prompted a highly revealing exchange with his manager, Ian Doyle, a few years ago.

"It seems that Ian got into a conversation with a friend of his who happened to be a plastic surgeon," Doherty recalled. "The upshot was that Ian asked me if I would be interested in having the scar on my right cheek removed.


"It wasn't the first time the scar was mentioned to me, but I assured him that I didn't want to change any part of me. Some guys seem to think that it makes me out to be a hard man, like as if it was a relic of some gang fight or whatever. But it's not like that."

He went on: "It was the result of an accident I had on my seventh birthday, when I fell off a shed roof on to a metal dustbin. I was first brought to Baggot Street Hospital but they decided that I should be treated in the Children's Hospital in Harcourt Street.

"Apparently, it was the delay in getting me from one hospital to the other that caused the scar to be as noticeable as it is. But it doesn't bother me. I don't suffer from any hangups about the way I look. In fact I think it is quite distinctive. It provides another reason why people should remember me."

In the wake of his World Championship triumph, however, Doherty will no longer need physical flaws to create lasting impressions. Indeed be will have precious few sources for concern, now that he is guaranteed more than sufficient money to secure him for life.

All of which is quite a contrast to those lean early years when pound notes were hard to come by as he plied his craft at his local snooker hall, Jason's of Ranelagh. At 12, two years before the untimely death of his father, he bought the cue that has taken him right to the top.

"I picked it out of a rack at Jason's," he recalled. "The manager originally wanted £5 for it but I beat him down. On acquiring it, my first move was to take it to a Dublin cuemaker, Barney Graft on, who replaced the damaged butt with a piece of ebony screwed into position.

"That's the cue that won me the World Amateur Championship and has remained with me as a professional. It's warped. I must be one of the few professionals playing with a warped cue, but I wouldn't dream of changing it. I have got used to holding it in a certain way, with my eye trained on a piece of grain."

Its efficiency couldn't be questioned. The tragic loss of his father at 14 strengthened the youngster's reliance on his friends at Jason's where, by that stage, he was allowed play free of charge. Gradually his competitive skills were toughened by money matches in other halls around.

Dublin with established professionals such as Eugene Hughes and Patsy Fagan.

Meanwhile, his first important tournament breakthrough came as a 17 year old in 1987 when he captured the Irish Amateur Championship. It meant the chance of competing in the World Championship from which he made an early departure. But he was on his way.

He won the Irish title again in 1989 and this time, went on to capture the world title in Singapore. That provided him with the entry into professional ranks, among the then limited group of 128 players. And his prospects of survival had already been greatly enhanced by the experience of competing against such players as Mike Hallett and Dave Harold in proam events.

At the end of his first professional season, Doherty was ranked 51st in the world with earnings of £45,000. In his second season, £80,000 in prize money led to a ranking of 21st. Then came £130,000 in prize money in his third season for a ranking of 11th.

After four seasons as a professional, the overall numbers had increased from 128 to 560, but that was of no concern to the gifted Dubliner who, by that stage, was ranked seventh in the world. It was a steady progression which prompted Stephen Hendry to remark: "Ken is the sort of player who is making it difficult for anyone to dominate the game.

With prophetic words, the Scot went on: "By beating me 9-7 in the Regal Scottish Masters, he proved he has the bottle for the big occasion. In fact his winning effort was fantastic, in the circumstances."

Hendry would go on to gain sweet revenge in a memorable final of the 1994 UK Championship, which, if anything, further enhanced Doherty's status in the game. "I was very proud to have held Stephen to 6-5, considering he won those frames with six centuries," he said.

Then came the telling comment: "In fact I now believe I have the ability to beat him any time we meet. That's the big difference in the way my game has developed."

Doyle, whose prime concern was the well being of his top client Hendry was also keenly aware of Doherty's potential. And it irritated him that a player of such talent should have had only one "ranking title to his name, the 1993 Regal Welsh Open.

So it was that the rather fragile relationship between them came to a head during the buildup to this year's World Championship. Accusing the Dubliner of laziness, Doyle said: "Ken is one of the few players who has the potential to capture the world title. But I find it frustrating that his approach hasn't been more sensible and dedicated. No amount of cash can compensate for the titles he feels he should have won."

Stung by those comments, Doherty was also aware that Doyle was right. "I'm not fulfilling my potential and that's every player's nightmare," he admitted, prior to the Crucible. "I was living on my own in my flat in London and I'd go back there, depressed over results. I wouldn't speak to anyone for days."

In the light of events over the weekend, it is fascinating to recall the Irishman's assessment of two of the players he beat en route to the title. At a time when his sights were firmly set on reaching the top, he had asserted: "For his break building talent, Hendry remains the most difficult opponent to beat, but Steve Davis wills always be my role model."

He explained: "For me, Steve is the ultimate professional. He was probably never as good a break builder as Hendry, but he had no equal for the quality of his safety play."

Now, Doherty has earned the right to be assessed in comparable terms by future rivals. And all from humble beginnings. But what was that tale about Jason and the Golden Fleece ..