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An Ode To Ronnie O'Sullivan, Snooker's Magnetic Genius

An Ode To Ronnie O'Sullivan, Snooker's Magnetic Genius
By Gavin Cooney

The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

Recently here at Balls.ie Towers, we were tasked with writing a piece about our favourite sportsperson from our youth. When we were asked for this series of articles, it took me quite a while to think of whom to write about. I grew up a Liverpool fan, so I assumed I would write about Steven Gerrard. I could recollect a few famous Gerrard images: the Olympiakos volley, the Istanbul header, the post-Real Madrid leap; that fucking slip. Yet the more I thought about it, the more I started thinking about Ronnie O'Sullivan. The more I tried to list out Gerrard moments to connect up and weave together into a collection of words someone would consider worth reading, the more I sat vacantly at a largely blank page.

Instead, I couldn't shake an image of Ronnie O'Sullivan.

The image was of him scrubbing a cue with a block of chalk, head cocked and tongue peeking over his lower lip, scoping out the latest angle of a snooker table vulnerable to attack; like a fencer with foil in hand outstretched, ready to spring upon an opponent.

I have no idea why it kept coming into my head. While I have celebrated Liverpool goals in mid-table clashes with Stoke in a kind of delirious frenzy - and consciously spent vast sums of money to go and watch Liverpool games. Why the hell did O'Sullivan come into my head? I've never traveled anywhere to see the man in action. I've never actually played on a snooker table. I've never made too much of a concerted effort to make time to watch snooker. I always tune into the final of the tournaments on the BBC, and would follow the World Championship for the couple of weeks that the competition is on, but the typical 'X til' I die' brand of fandom did not apply.

And yet any time I wanted to turn this piece into a lyrical evocation of heady and wild nights at Anfield - the kind of piece Vincent Hogan can write to deadline from Thurles -  I could only picture O'Sullivan stooped confidently over a snooker table, wide-eyed, snooker cue grazing the bottom of his chin as it is passed over the whitened flesh between fingers of a splayed hand.

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***

Often in life, things become important, rather than being important in the first place. Critical moments in your life become landmark in retrospect. The moments that endure in memory as emblems of youth are often surprising, because at the time, you had no idea that they were important. These were moments of complete immersion; events that you did not come to saying 'well, I've paid a couple of hundred quid to be here, let's remember it' but instead are occasions which seduce and draw you in with magnetic immediacy.

Nobody does this better than O'Sullivan. In football - given the enormous news cycle it must fill each day - individual moments are often wedged into a larger context, one of the 5 things we learned from a match. Snooker is one of those things that happens year round for diehard fans and/or gambling addicts, but for the rest of us, it arrives on the BBC for a fortnight in April as a quaint fidgeting of bow-ties and shushing of fans and then shuffles off stage for another year.

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For those couple of Crucible weeks, however, it totally sucks me in, with O'Sullivan its arch-seducer. Those images above weave with countless others in my mind to stitch together a relentless yet graceful cycle of O'Sullivan gliding around the table: sizing up the angle, swooping to pot, stepping back to size up another angle to restart the process all over again.

Here is its apogee:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpeBugHSCnU

O'Sullivan's bewitching pull has drawn me in and remained tattooed across my memory for years. O'Sullivan playing snooker was free of the veneer of inauthenticity of worshiping Steven Gerrard because I chose to support Liverpool. I didn't choose to support O'Sullivan. He simply drew me in and made himself unforgettable. And he continues to do so.

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See Also: Watch: Ronnie O'Sullivan Makes A Shot Only He Would Contemplate

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