The UK Snooker Championships commenced on the 25th November at the York Barbican, marking its 37th year of the second largest world-ranking event. While many veteran players appear to have performed their first three matches in a serene manner, it is far more stipulating for the auspicious youngers involved in the UK Championships. Joe O’Connor is one such player to have brandished glimpses of talent during his brief first-round spectacle with world number two seed Neil Robertson. The Australian crowned his composed performance with a 6-0 win over the 19-year-old Joe O’Connor, maintaining his prospects of defending his UK Championship title.
For Leicester’s latest potting prodigy, a taste of life on the grand snooker stage appeared enough to quench his thirst on his professional snooker debut. O’Connor made his name via winning virtually every conceivable title in pool’s junior ranks, however the switch to snooker’s elite level has proved to be a self acknowledged “stimulating challenge”. The Englishman is eager for his return next year having acquired his tour card earlier in October; “ I’ll definitely learn from my experience. It’s a challenging game at the top (professional level) and I need to practice a lot more and, hopefully, come back next year as a professional player and do better”. O’Connor added that he is “putting the hours in every day”, ultimately preparing for his “future to be where Neil’s is now”.
O’Connor has lately been celebrated as an exciting prospect with potential to join the likes of Mark Selby, Ben Woollaston and Tom Ford on the tour as part of Leicester’s long production line of snooker talent. The 31-year-old Mark Selby revealed earlier in the week of being interested in practicing with the youngster, with the intent of guiding him towards a similar path that established Selby’s professional career at age 16. O’Connor explained he is far from subdued from the prospect of filling the shoes of the world champion and number one seed in the foreseeable future. O’Connor stated; “Leicester appears to have been a popular place for snooker with the big names that have come out of there the last few years, and I would definitely like to step up and be like one of them one day”.
Similarly, Steven Hallworth is another emerging star to have acknowledged his recent maturation, and pins his development down to the veteran players on the tour. Hallworth, 18, is in his first twelve months of a two-year stint on the world snooker tour; where on Thursday a bright start in the fixture with former world number one Mark Willaims, where he was brushed aside 6-1. Upon reflection of his performance, Hallworth conceded that life on the snooker stage has proven somewhat paradoxical. Young players including Hallworth and O’Connor appear overawed with the adjustment to the amplified atmosphere as a professional player, however also accepts that they ultimately benefit through the experience. “I was nervous and it was my first time on the telly, and found my shot selection to be uncharacteristic of my ability. However the experience was great and I have definitely matured as a player and am much more settled (than last year)”.
Recognising the extent of the future faculties of snooker’s most promising players highlights the potential growth of the sport as a whole. The media’s role, accompanied with globalisation may have allowed young player’s profiles to evolve simultaneously to their skill levels.
What additional methods may be adopted towards amplifying the profiles of younger snooker talents in England?