Dave Gilbert and Fergal O’Brien relive snooker’s longest frame: ‘It’s just obscene’

Dave GIlbert and Fergal O'Brien

Dave Gilbert and Fergal O’Brien played out snooker’s longest ever frame in 2017 (Picture: Getty)

David Gilbert and Fergal O’Brien hold a piece of snooker history that they would rather not, but one that is unlikely to be ripped away from them any time soon – the sport’s longest ever frame.

It was the final frame of the final qualifying round for the 2017 World Championship with the two men locked at 9-9.

There was incredible tension at Ponds Forge, Sheffield, as O’Brien had battled all the way back from 6-1 down and there was a place at the Crucible, snooker’s hallowed ground, on the line

What followed was a whopping two hours and three minutes of ‘action’ before O’Brien flopped over the line as the winner.

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Neither player has particularly fond recollections of the absolute epic, which smashed the previous record by 20 minutes, but they do remember it well and have dredged their memory banks of that fateful night.

This writer even watched the whole thing back, in a remarkable act of self-flagellation.

Gilbert came up short on the evening, but kicked off his recollection of events with a disclaimer that no grudges are held and the pair get on very well, something both men were keen to point out.

‘I love Fergal, I don’t want to say a bad word about him,’ Gilbert told Metro.co.uk. ‘I think he’s a top geezer and I respect the guy, but as we’re talking about that match…

‘The funniest thing about that match, everybody goes on about the last frame and of course, two hours for a frame of snooker is absolutely f***ing ridiculous. But I was 6-1 up and I had the raging hump because Fergal was taking so long over everything and he kept going to the toilet for 10 minutes.

David Gilbert

Gilbert does not have fond memories of the epic encounter (Picture: Getty Images)

‘I went to the toilet as well because he kept going and it was doing my head in, and he weren’t even having a wee or washing his hands or anything, he was talking to himself at the wall!

‘I said to the ref, “he’s going to the toilet every frame and it’s getting on my tits, he’s not even having a wee! You need to have a word.”‘

Fergal remembers the toiled trips too, and his pep talks to himself certainly did the job.

‘I was 6-1 down and I remember going to the toilet and saying “look I’ve got to dig in here” because my previous matches were quite long too, I hadn’t had much sleep and I wasn’t feeling great,’ said the Irishman.

‘I badly needed the next two to give myself a chance. Sure enough I made it 6-3 and then had a good night’s sleep. The next day I had a century in the first frame and went 7-6 up.’

The match wound its way to the fateful 19th frame which started brightly enough, with Gilbert in early but breaking down on 17, then O’Brien responding with 30 but playing safe.

Fergal O’Brien has always been a fearsome match-player (Picture: Getty Images)

‘I’d made about 18 or summat, split the pack, but the balls were all nice,’ remembers Gilbert. ‘For it to take two hours from there, it’s just obscene wasn’t it. I couldn’t believe it.’

At just 24 minutes into the frame, Neal Foulds on commentary said: ‘We’re at a very tense stage in proceedings, and I think quite a lot of snooker still to be played.’

How right he was.

Over an hour into the frame the final red is potted, with Foulds starting to lose patience with O’Brien on one particular shot as he continually checked his angles: ‘He’s come down the table about five times. The balls have not moved.’

It is the Irishman’s door at which the blame is laid for this epic frame, but there is important context to his extreme caution, which he explains.

‘In the five years previously I’d lost that final qualifier,’ said Fergal. ‘Twice I lost 10-4 so fair enough, but three of those five were 10-9. One on the pink, one on the black and one on a re-spotted black when I was 7-2 up. The loss on the black was against Matthew Stevens when I was 60 points up! So they were heartbreaking.

‘My fear of being in tears after losing the final qualifier 10-9 again, at some level I’m not sure I’d have been able to take that. The fear became controlling, I was double or triple checking everything, so fearful of making a mistake.’

The fear really took over on the yellow, which was on the table for over half an hour after the final red was potted.

Before the yellow was sunk, a tweet came in to the commentators which read: ‘I’m watching in Pakistan, it’s 3am, come on O’Brien have some mercy.’

Mentioning the epic frame to veteran pro Peter Lines, he remembers Ben Woollaston nearly staying to watch his pal Gilbert in action, but being very glad he didn’t thanks to that yellow ball.

‘Ben finished his match and was going to stay and watch the end of Gilbert’s but he was gutted he’d lost so he drove home,’ said Lines.

‘They were on the yellow and he got home and they were still on the yellow. He was glad he didn’t stay.’

When the yellow was potted the scores, amazingly, were level at 46-46 and there was still plenty of snooker to play.

O’Brien managed to tangle Gilbert up in a tricky snooker on the green, which he missed twice and then popped his cue down and went out of the arena.

This looked like pure frustration from the Angry Farmer, but he insists it will have just been a call of nature.

‘I only go to the toilet if I need the toilet, I don’t pull strokes like that,’ said Dave. ‘I spent a lot of time sat in my chair and I sip a lot of water just through being bored so that would have been it.

On the suggestion he was nipping for a crafty fag, Gilbert replied: ‘No, bloody hell, I’d have like to. I could have smoked a 20 deck the amount of time he was taking.’

David Gilbert during day seven of the 2020 Dafabet Masters at Alexandra Palace, London. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday January 18, 2020. See PA story SNOOKER Masters. Photo credit should read: Steven Paston/PA Wire

Gilbert made the semi-finals of the Masters on debut this year (Picture: PA)

This break didn’t even count on the frame time, and while the players were away from the table the camera panned out to show maybe 20 or 30 hardy souls still sat watching the live action in South Yorkshire.

The viewers at home were treated to a look inside Foulds and Rob Walker’s commentary booth, with Walker apologising for not clearing up the curry they had enjoyed earlier in the evening.

The players return and Gilbert escapes the snooker, albeit with some controversy over whether he had hit the correct ball or not.

If he was lucky then, his fortune soon ran out as Fergal potted the green then Dave went in-off on the brown, leaving him at a 64-46 disadvantage.

The previous record frame, held by Barry Pinches and Alan McManus, has long been shattered and the pair have been on the colours alone for an hour at this stage.

Someone tweets in asking if anyone has a quid for the light, Foulds replies: ’Since we’ve been in here, there’s a different pound coin in circulation, all our money is no longer valid.’

The end is finally nigh as Gilbert finds himself snookered on the brown, escapes, but is very unfortunate not to pot it with it perilously close to the pocket.

The Tamworth man is still frustrated by that unfortunate shot to this day, and the time it took O’Brien to pot the final two balls he required to win.

‘How unlucky was I, snookered on the brown over the hole, I hit it full ball, it HAS to go in!’ Gilbert seethed on the thought of that shot.

‘It doesn’t, then it took him forever to pot the brown and blue over the holes. All I remember is hitting that brown, I knew I’d lost the match at that point and it still lasted 20 minutes.’

O’Brien did eventually wrap up the frame at around 11.30pm, with Walker declaring: ‘We thought we were heading for a cheeky pint at quarter past 10, but not to be.’

O’Brien recalls the sheer relief of finally winning the all-important match, but how quickly the shine came off it when he saw the negative reaction to his performance.

‘I was glad to have won, I got back to my room in Sheffield and I was looking forward to going to the Crucible,’ said Fergal.

O’Brien reached the Crucible for the 10th time with the victory (Picture: Getty Images)

‘But then checking my phone the next day, the comments and press were less than complimentary. The next day the buzz had gone and people reference it so often, it’s not something I’m proud of.

‘I guess you can say the patience, discipline and desire to play such a long frame and win, there’s some merit in that, but that’s not how I’d like to be remembered.

‘That’s not how I play, you know, I’m never the quickest, but that was above and beyond. I lost my snooker identity for those couple of hours, I was so desperate to win.

‘I was buzzing to have won it, but the next day talking to people it quickly wore off. I was pleased with the result but I wouldn’t like to play that way again. I lost something in terms of my identity, so there was a price to pay for it, as such, at the time, when you’re in the height of it, it’s win at all cost.’

Gilbert was quoted the next day as saying ‘that’s not snooker’ but he insists there was never any ill will and he wished Fergal well after the final ball was potted.

‘I managed to shake his hand and wish him all the best, so I did alright,’ Dave explained.

‘I got kippered by one of you guys reporting for a paper. I’d walked out and I was alright, honestly, everybody thinks I was fuming.

‘I can’t remember what I said but I must have made a joke and it sounded like I was fuming, you’ve got to be careful what you say.’

At the suggestion of any tactics, gamesmanship or mind games being used, O’Brien was unequivocal, saying: ‘Oh Christ no. It wasn’t to do with playing Dave or anything, I was totally mired in my own fear. Fear was my opponent.

‘The fear of going back as a loser again at 10-9. When you’re fearful you can just stand still and stop, and that’s kind of what happened.

‘If I played that way in 10 frames against Dave Gilbert I’d be lucky to win two of them. It’s so far removed from me playing at my best. I got away with it.’

What both men firmly agree on to this day is that the frame does not warrant a repeat viewing.

‘I haven’t watched it back and obviously I’m not going to either,’ said Gilbert.

O’Brien advised: ‘I haven’t watched it back, nor would I ever, nor would I recommend anyone to.’

Having done so myself, I agree with them both.

MORE: Fergal O’Brien is far from done with snooker: ‘When you’ve heard I’ve died, you’ll know I’ve retired’

MORE: Alfie Burden: ‘I’ve got unfinished business with snooker, it’s not over till it’s over’

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