Swail beats Parrott and strikes blow for underdog

 

JOE SWAIL discovered last night that the Goff's experience can be even more rewarding the second time around. With a career-best performance in the first round of the £190,000 Benson and Hedges Irish Masters tournament, the 26-year-old from Belfast gained a thrilling 6-4 victory over former world champion John Parrott.

It was a splendid performance by last year's debutant who outshone another first-round clash earlier in the day in which Darren Morgan beat Alan McManus by the same margin.

Swail had reason to be apprehensive about his clash with the Liverpudlian given that he had lost their previous four meetings. Furthermore, Parrott's recent form has been very impressive.

Yet, they say that great competitors tend to make their own luck. It is debatable whether Swail could yet quality for such status but his play of the eighth frame was nonetheless impressive. Trailing Parrott by 4-3, he went 66-0 down and apparently on his way to defeat.

Still, knowing that he needed to extract maximum points from the remaining reds, Swail had the competitive guile to bring the black out into play. And having done so, he had the good fortune to fluke the fifth last red. From there, Swail had a clearance of 67 points to win the frame on the black and level at 4-4.

"Sure, it was a fluke," he admitted afterwards. "But I feel I was due a bit of luck. Every important match I seemed to play in recent months, I have been on the wrong end of flukes." And, no doubt, he retained bitter memories of the European Open in Malta earlier this month when he came from 5-1 down to Parrott only to lose a semi-final match by 6-5.

That 67 was Swail's biggest break of the match whereas Parrott had a sparkling 112 in the opening frame and then produced a total clearance of 127 in the sixth to lead by 4-2. By the ninth, however, his opponent's tenacity had put a serious dent in the Englishman's confidence. Swail held him scoreless to win the ninth for a lead of 5-4 and went on to secure victory in the next.

His next opponent will be Ronnie O'Sullivan in the first quarter-final tomorrow afternoon.

Morgan's progress to the quarter-finals could produce an acrimonious clash tomorrow evening given that his opponent will be Peter Ebdon, his conquerer of 12 months ago. When they met in the Benson and Hedges British Masters at Wembley last month, Morgan engaged in a rather mischievous victory celebration.

Snooker observers will be aware that Ebdon wears his emotions on his sleeve, to the point of indulging in extreme histrionics at times. Against that background. Morgan thought it might be amusing to see how the Londoner responded to a sample of his own behaviour. Ebdon was not pleased.

"We haven't spoken since and if he wishes to take exception. I won't lose any sleep," said an unrepentent Morgan last night. Then, clearly pleased to have beaten McManus, for the first time in four meetings, he added: "I have been inclined to blow away early leads in recent matches, so it was nice to see this one through."

Frail concentration was certainly in evidence in the seventh frame when he might have gone into a 5-2 lead. Set up for a clearance of the colours, he progressed solidly from yellow to blue but made a decidedly uncomfortable effort at polling the pick into a corner pocket. It was some way off target; the pink finished close to another corner pocket at the far end of the table and McManus gratefully accepted the chance.

Ironically, it was then that we witnessed the real strength of the Welshman's challenge. After being pulled back to 4-3, he swept to a winning break of 83 in the next. And when McManus recovered to win the ninth, Morgan produced an even more emphatic, reply with a stunning break of 86 to finish the match.