Fergal O’Brien: ‘When you’ve heard I’ve died, you’ll know I’ve retired from snooker’

2018 D88 German Masters - Day One

Fergal O’Brien has a long way to go in his snooker career yet (Picture: Getty Images)

Fergal O’Brien goes into the World Snooker Championship qualifiers this month fighting to maintain a stay on the professional tour that has lasted nearly 30 years, but whatever happens in Sheffield, he has an awful lot more to give.

The 48-year-old has been a professional since 1991 and never once dropped off the main tour, a notable achievement in itself given the qualities of some that have failed to do so in that time.

A former British Open winner and Masters finalist, the Irishman has been as high as number nine in the rankings over his long career, but now finds himself at #70 and precariously placed.

Failure to get back into the top 64, or into the top four outside that on the one-year ranking list, would see O’Brien drop off the tour, but even if he succumbed to that fate, he would be battling back at the first opportunity.


‘No no, when you’ve heard I’ve died, you’ll know I’ve retired,’ O’Brien told Metro.co.uk. ‘It’s not something I want to give a lot of thought to because I want to focus on the positives, but I would go to Q School.

‘Hopefully I’m only half way through my career, I’ve done 30 years, but 78-years-old might be pushing it a bit.’

Putting to Fergal that just being on the tour for nearly three decades is an achievement, he took some convincing.

‘I suppose, you don’t really think about that. I suppose you can undervalue it, just being on the tour, with how hard it is to get on, just staying there is something of an achievement.

‘But my focus is just three games, I’m at the Crucible, which is the focus every year anyway, and if I do that, everything else takes care of itself.’

Evergrande 2017 World Snooker China Champion - Day 5

O’Brien reached the final of the Masters in 2001 (Picture: Getty Images)

Three wins in qualifying would see O’Brien return to the Crucible for the first time since 2017 and guarantee his place in the top 64 next season.

The permutations and vagaries of the rankings are myriad, meaning he could still retain his tour card without three victories, but he doesn’t want to complicate things and his focus is entirely on reaching the Crucible.

‘My attitude is that it’s three matches to qualify for the Crucible. That’s always been my attitude, whether I’m ranked higher or lower,’ he explained.

‘When it comes to the World Championship, when I first turned pro I think it was nine matches to get to the Crucible, so then if someone had said, “oh well done you’ve won two matches and are still in the top 32,” I’d have punched them!

‘You don’t want to hear that. You judge it all on whether you qualify or not.

‘Obviously I want to stay on the tour, but if you offered to most people that they can win two matches but lose the final qualifier, they wouldn’t accept it, they’d take their chances. It’s a sickener if you miss out on that qualifier for the Crucible.

‘Qualifying for the Crucible keeps me on the tour so that’s straight forward, head down, qualify, keep the maths as simple as possible. Win three and I’m in, the rest is s***e talk.’

O’Brien is a vastly experience player, a ferocious practicer and has seen it all in the game. So much so that he has played a big part in the resurgence in form of Shaun Murphy over the last year.

Murphy relocated to Dublin and after a dip in form in the 2018/19 season, the Irishman whipped him into shape on the practice table to great effect, with the Englishman winning two ranking events this season.

‘I thought, particularly because he’d had a poor season by his standards and the first year of moving country, that was never going to be easy,’ explained O’Brien.

‘But following on form that I said, “look you’ve got to practice a bit more” and I felt his concentration could have been better. He was a little bit distracted.

‘I remember the next day he was in bright and early, doing seven or eight line-up clearances in a row. Maybe I just struck a cord with him a little, hopefully I was giving him good advice.

‘But fair play to him because he’s number 10 in the world, won the Triple Crown and he was willing to get advice and take it on board as opposed to thinking “what would he know, I’m higher ranked than him” but I’m glad I could help.’

O’Brien has benefited himself from having someone of Murphy’s calibre as a regular practice partner as well, but would love to get some of the Magician’s results in the big events.

‘My dad said, “whatever you told Shaun, have a look in the mirror and tell yourself.” It’s not quite as simple as that,’ said Fergal.

‘Usually I’d have to go to the UK to get more practice so this has been great.

‘Shaun’s been kind enough to say I’ve helped him but it’s obviously been good for me too. Not just when you play, but also in conversations, he can say one or two things and you can see why he’s a winner, where his attitude is.

‘So I’ve tried to pick his brain as well, but it’s not worked as well as my advice for him.’

2018 D88 German Masters - Day One

O’Brien on his reputation as a fierce practicer: ‘I suppose it’s not a bad reputation to have’ (Picture: Getty Images)

The man who has been known as ‘The Baby-Faced Assassin’ has made 10 Crucible appearances in the past and if he can return this year, it will be a unique experience.

There remains the possibility of a reduced crowd at the Crucible, but there could also still be an empty arena to play in.

O’Brien feels the situation could level the playing field somewhat, and despite it being an unusual experience, it is one he is desperate to be involved in.

‘Even with no crowd, playing in the Crucible would be special because you’re so used to seeing it and it having its own atmosphere,’ he said.

‘Obviously not having the crowd you could argue for people who qualify for the first time it would be easier. Part of the magic of the Crucible is the crowd being so close, but without that the pressure won’t be as magnified.

‘You could see people getting comfortable and playing really, really well. Normally you would think the people who have played there before and have been successful would have that advantage of experiencing that pressure, so it’s levelled the playing field a bit.

‘I’d bite your hand off to play at the Crucible now with a crowd or not.’

Fergal didn’t play in the Championship League in Milton Keynes in June partially due to safety fears over the coronavirus and the event coming too soon.

Several international players have pulled out of the World Championship for the same reason, and while O’Brien would not miss the big one, he has full respect for the decisions of those who have declined the invitation.

‘I’m no expert on snooker, but it’s hard to play when you’re dead,’ he said.

‘It is life-threatening, so the risks may be numerically small, but it’s not about getting it themselves, but going back to their families and giving it to them.

‘The World Championship will be on other years, it’s your own health and safety and your family’s, so you can totally understand and respect their decisions, but it’s just unfortunate they won’t be able to play.’

The World Championship qualifiers run from 21-28 July at the EIS in Sheffield.

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