Eurosport journalist Desmond Kane about the importance of being Ronnie O’Sullivan … enjoy!
The importance of being Ronnie O’Sullivan
By Desmond Kane
Published on 19/02/2016 at 22:36
The 147 that never was should not detract from Ronnie O’Sullivan’s ongoing and outstanding contribution to snooker, writes Desmond Kane.
Maximum effort for minimum coverage. Ding Junhui, a genuine sporting icon in China, departed Cardiff last night rejoicing in compiling a sixth immaculate maximum break of his career at the Welsh Open despite suffering a 5-2 loss to Neil Robertson in the quarter-finals. Yet there is no chance such a heroic feat, the 117th 147 in competitive snooker since 1982, will command the level of coverage it deserves in the part of the world from whence it came.
Not in the hills and valleys, not in the green and pleasant lands surrounding it and certainly not in Blighty’s world of print journalism suffering from large dollops of football overkill. Back in China, where they are buying up footballers like real estate in London this weather, Ding’s achievement is unlikely to be given such short shrift. He regularly attracts TV audiences of 110m to watch his matches in Asia.
Ding could probably have polished off the colours wearing a blindfold to conclude the maximum and would toil to make four paragraphs in your average national daily in these parts when some two-bit footballer is nursing a groin injury.
For Ronnie O’Sullivan, attention spans differ. He opts to run in 146 instead of 147 and the ‘Rocket’ is suddenly given more space than Tim Peake.
When you have time to stop and think about what O’Sullivan pulled off in Cardiff, you can only admire his bloody single mindedness, a prerequisite in a sport where it is only you against the unforgiving roll of snooker balls. As his sport’s main protagonist, he is oblivious, instinctive and unpredictable yet more importantly of all in the great public relations sell: believable.
Snooker is largely dead to the sunset industry of newspapers, but it is a sport that will outlast dailies. The print edition of The Independent has already departed.
When England won the Ashes in 2005 and cricket was broadcast by terrestrial television on Channel 4, eight sessions of snooker over the year attracted a larger audience than the peak viewing figures at any point during that Ashes series. It remains one of Britain’s most watched sports yet it seems only Ronnie registers with some.
One opinion piece stated that O’Sullivan should retire if he can’t treat the game with more respect while accusing snooker of indulging O’Sullivan. If snooker can’t indulge its greatest player, there is something wrong with snooker. O’Sullivan brings a narrative and a soap opera to snooker that adds an element of intrigue that is cherished beyond the sport.
Another organ suggested Ronnie is all that snooker has got. Both points of view are fairly bogus, not in keeping with the greater truth: snooker is brimming with characters and personalities. They may not be Ronnie O’Sullivan, but they are as fascinating as footballers, tennis players or darts players.
Mark Selby did little wrong in losing 5-1 to O’Sullivan in their quarter-final on Friday. He is a terrific character, a working class hero who was forced to fend for himself when his mum walked out and his father died of cancer in his teens. He battled adversity to become a world champion by the age of 30.
Unless you are throwing frames. there is no level of publicity that snooker should not welcome. Unwittingly, O’Sullivan continues to encourage people to watch what remains a truly glorious sport even when he doesn’t mean to. I think, therefore I am, said the French philosopher Rene Descartes. Or was it Silvino Francisco?
It is fair to say that Ronnie was not thinking much beyond what his dinner or next running route might be during his match with Barry Pinches on Monday when it occurred to him that he was on for the 14th competitive maximum of a career that remarkably shows genuine signs of improvement at the age of 40.
When the break had reached the 80 mark and O’Sullivan discovered there was “only” £12,000 on the table for the maximum, Ronnie, a labour supporter, decided to withdraw his labour from his table.
Instead of opting to proceed with the 147, O’Sullivan was smiling as he ran in a 146. It was reported by some like he had staged a dirty protest, portrayed as act of treachery when it was merely mischievous, not Machiavellian.
“I knew it was £10,000. I could have done it, but I didn’t think the prize was worthy of a 147. So I’ve tried to let it build up until it’s worthy and then go for it,” he said.
“It’s like going into a Mercedes garage and when they say that you can have the car for £3,000, you reply, ‘No way, that’s too cheap. I’m not buying it for that’.”
People just love to be offended these days. There was an immediate stampede to pore in with a false moral outrage about why O’Sullivan had failed to make the 147. Why couldn’t he have earned the dosh and handed it over to charity? Fellow player Ali Carter, who has fought gamely against cancer and Crohn’s disease, accused O’Sullivan of selfishness. Well, sometimes charity has to begin at home.
It was asked if such a sum did not matter to O’Sullivan then he would not miss handing over 12 grand to charity out of his own pocket. Perhaps he should have, perhaps he has. How do we know how much Ronnie gives to charity? That is own personal business. In the world of snooker, O’Sullivan remains pure showbusiness.
Barry Hearn was immediately critical before the World Snooker chairman got with the programme in realising how much publicity O’Sullivan had attracted for the sport. He is a snooker player, not a fund raiser.
“Some have said he has brought the game into disrepute but Ronnie brings the game into fine repute,” said Hearn. “In his little head, he thought it would be funny. He is quite dry. The 147 is the pinnacle but Ronnie has made loads of them, he has got loads of money.
“He is the biggest character in the sport. When he breaks the rules, he gets punished; in this case, it was his choice. Without personality and characters, sport dies. O’Sullivan is the biggest character in the sport.”
Having worked with Ronnie on his blog over the past two years, this onlooker can tell you what you see is what you get. He is not trying to be somebody he is not. Whether people like him, or don’t like him doesn’t matter. Nor should it. He says it as it is. He also loves a touch of theatre hence the decision to make the 146, which should be noted was every bit as good as going one point better.
People are only as nice as the mood you find them in. O’Sullivan’s mood changes with the weather, but that is what keeps the public engrossed. You never know what you are going to get. Always leave them wanting more is the great trick O’Sullivan has unwittingly mastered. Predictability is boring.
What is a shame is that the 146 has been allowed to overshadow the brilliance of his output over the past few days in Wales.
He is arguably playing at a higher level, and striking the ball better than when he lifted five world titles if that is believable. Ahead of his semi-final against Joe Perry on Saturday, he has already ran in seven centuries in winning 21 frames.
Like Roger Federer in tennis, Lionel Messi in football. Sachin Tendulkar in cricket or Tiger Woods in golf, there is an expectation level on Ronnie to carry the good name of snooker beyond the sport. O’Sullivan continues to deliver more than he receives from snooker.
We should appreciate such a once in a generation talent while he can still deliver a straight cue with such artistry. Millions will miss him when he’s gone.
In a week when ‘only” £12,000 caused such wailing and gnashing of teeth, O’Sullivan remains priceless.