Ken Doherty’s enduring legacy is as bright as ever
After being identified as “just another paperboy for Ken,” I was ushered into the living room where, miraculously, a cup of tea and a toasted sandwich were set before me. Rose Doherty looked down at the solid silver trophy and murmured, “I’ve got to clean it up a bit.”
his son, the newly crowned snooker champion, had returned from the Crucible Theater in Sheffield to his hometown of Ranelagh, south Dublin, where neighbours, friends and well-wishers gathered to toast a national hero. Beside the trophy was a letter bearing the President’s coat of arms as a token of his newfound fame.
“I believe that as a world champion you will be a great ambassador for Ireland and a good role model for all young athletes,” wrote Mary Robinson. “You made us proud.” Indeed. Ken Doherty had completed the treble of World Under 21, World Amateur and World Professional titles for a unique honor he still holds after 25 years.
At the age of 27, the magnitude of Doherty’s achievement could be measured by the fact that he was only the 16th world champion since the event began in 1927. And having joined Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor on the roll of honor, he remains the last Irishman to triumph at the Crucible.
The impact of those early days in May 1997 remains an integral part of Doherty’s life. Although he is now ranked 78th in the world, his enduring status as a commentator for the BBC at this year’s championship is a reflection.
After eight years, he tried to qualify again at 52 but lost to Jamaica’s Rory McLeod. ask him to admit it Daily Mail: “I am coming to a crossroads. I am in the second year of my biennial invitation card but I am hoping they will offer me another one. Then maybe that would be enough for me.”
Meanwhile, the events of 1997 are vividly remembered. After Wednesday’s exciting citizens’ reception, there was a frantic round of media interviews on Thursday and a family dinner with the Taoiseach on Friday.
Still, Doherty found time to sneak into Jason’s snooker hall around the corner from his house for a quiet practice session in an upstairs room. This was in preparation for an outing in London with Steve Davis on Saturday lunchtime in the Matchroom League. That evening he was back in Dublin appearing on Pat Kenny’s show.
Eamon Dunphy, who had been one of Doherty’s biggest supporters, had told the player he would get an open-top bus parade through Dublin if he brought home the World Cup. “I would say, ‘No, no way,'” protested Doherty. “,That will never happen. Snooker is not like football, which takes over the whole nation. Snooker can never be like that.’
“Being one of the 18.5 million TV viewers who watched Dennis Taylor sink the last black of the last frame against Steve Davis in 1985, I knew winning the World Championship was going to be something special. But I didn’t think it would be that big. The response was incredible. Cars honk and people hang out of windows. I will never forget the reception at the Mansion House and then the bus back to Ranelagh where we had a great party.”
We then talked about money and the surprising fact that his £210,000 reward was just £40,000 less than Justin Leonard would receive two months later for winning the Open Golf Championship at Royal Troon. Doherty’s immediate thoughts were of his family, his mother, then a widow of 14 years, his older brothers Séamus and Anthony, and younger sister Rosemary. “£210,000 is an obscene sum for winning a tournament,” he claimed.
When I suggested that the estimated reward for becoming world champion would be at least £1million he seemed a little surprised. “I suppose with all the media attention it could come down to that, but it’s not like sponsors are knocking on my door and handing me checks now.”
The main focus during the 1997 championship was the irrepressible Stephen Hendry, who was aiming for his sixth consecutive world title. As always, the Crucible had other thrills to offer, not the least of which was a 147 from Ronnie O’Sullivan, which he completed in a staggering five minutes and eight seconds, the fastest in history.
Interestingly, Doherty did much of his prep work practicing with O’Sullivan in Ilford, London, although they were wildly divergent in their approach to the game. While O’Sullivan was essentially a dynamic potter and a gifted breakbuilder, Doherty, known as “Crafty Ken”, was more of a patient tactician with a great aptitude for competing at the highest level.
I suggested to him that snooker was not unlike golf when it came to how a potential champion had to deal with pressure. Essentially, the test was about decision-making. “There’s a lot more that could be said, but basically it’s true: making decisions about the right shot can be very difficult,” he admitted. “The clouds are starting to obscure your vision. You can’t see the possibilities. Essentially, the ability to cope is to see things as they are meant to be seen.”
Competitive steel was very evident as Doherty defeated formidable opponents in Mark Davis, Steve Davis and John Higgins on his way to the finals against Hendry.
“When Stephen tapped in the 27th frame in blue, pink and black to close at 12-15 [from 9-15], I thought, ‘This is it now. It’s the beginning of the end.” I tried to keep my cool, but I could see that things were starting to go his way. He started this evening session at a century and seemed really focused.
“Losing that frame would have killed many other players. While I certainly felt vulnerable as the butterflies became more active, I decided to wait for my chance to hurt him as he hurt me. He couldn’t see that I was freaking out, which must have been very discouraging for him. It keeps the adrenaline pumping, keeps you going when you sense the other is on the run. Then a 60 break right in the next frame restored my confidence.”
Was it sheer willpower that allowed Doherty to win the next three frames for an 18-12 triumph? “I’ve always believed that I have the courage and determination not to lie down, whatever the odds. I don’t know where it came from. I just know it’s somewhere inside me when I need it. It’s an inner strength that you can’t activate if you don’t have it. Faced with an opponent of Stephen’s caliber, most players would have folded, but I never thought that would happen to me.”
At that time, I felt the close bond between the player and his mother, who kept her family together after her husband’s death in 1983 with all sorts of part-time jobs.
“My mother has struggled for pennies her entire life and I am delighted that she will benefit from my success,” he said, looking back over the 20 years leading up to her death in April 2017.
He smiled widely and added: “She will never change; My mother will never change. She will continue to cycle around Ranelagh. When life here gets back to normal, it will be nice to just make things a little more comfortable for her.”
Which became a really enriching element of a remarkable success.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/other-sports/snooker/the-enduring-legacy-of-ken-doherty-is-as-bright-as-ever-41581622.html Ken Doherty’s enduring legacy is as bright as ever