Quarter-final All-Ireland exit for Pot Black

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Prospects of the All-Ireland Club Snooker Championship title coming to Cookstown evaporated at the quarter-final stage when they were beaten by a star-studded Wicklow team.

Pot Black began their campaign on Friday morning with a tricky match against the champions of Munster, Crucible from Cork. Patrick Wallace, who made a 63 break, and Joe Meara were both convincing 2-0 winners after Mickey Quinn had lost the first match finished.

Darren Gribben turned around a 1-0 deficit to win the clinching match, 2-1 on the pink. His victory was achieved just as Dermot Loughran was contemplating dropping the final black in his deciding frame in down the side cushion with the rest, much to the relief of the big Dungannon man!

They followed that up with a comfortable 3-0 win over the Terry Rodgers team from Dublin, Wallace (83 break), Meara and Gribben all winning 2-0, with Loughran & Quinn both leading when their matches were stopped.

That same night saw the team from Cookstown suffer their first loss, albeit by the narrowest of margins, to Potters (Carlow). Wallace again won 2-0, a 62 his best effort, but Gribben went down 2-0, losing black & pink ball frames to the 1990 World Amateur Champion, Stephen O’Connor. Meara gave Pot Black the lead by recovering from losing the first frame to former professional Stephen Murphy to record a comeback 2-1 win.

When Quinn lost a lengthy 2-1 battle to Richie Nolan, the result came down to the last black in the deciding frame between Loughran and three time World Cup winner Eugene Hughes. After several shots each, including 2 attempts from either player to sink the winning ball, Hughes dispatched a long straight pot to the corner pocket.

Pot Black bounced back from this disappointing setback the next day to record their second whitewash win of the group, this time over the previously unbeaten Tuam ‘A’. Gribben was their first winner, 2-0 with a quickfire potting display, and Meara soon followed that by recovering from behind in the second frame to also win 2-0. Wallace provided the clinching point by making a 115 break in his opener and adding a much lengthier second frame. Quinn & Loughran were both playing deciders when the team match was over.

With Tuam ‘A’ beating Potters 3-2, all 3 teams finished with 3 wins out of 4, necessitating a 3-way play-off consisting of 5 single frame matches. Pot Black reversed their group match scoreline by battling to a 3-2 win over Potters, Wallace beating Murphy and Quinn and Gribben commendably reversing their results against Nolan and O’Connor respectively. That meant finishing in top position in their group, which had the Tyrone men hoping that they would be 1 of the 3 winners (of the 5 groups) drawn at random for a seeded draw against group runners-up in the quarter-finals. Unfortunately, they were left in the hat at the end with the ‘Q’ Club (Wicklow) and so they had to play their fellow group winners in the last 8.

The ‘Q’ Club team boasted the services of former pro Michael Judge as well as 3 Irish International players, and they proved too strong for the Pot Black team, who never really threatened an upset. A quick 3-0 win for Wayne Doyle over Mickey Quinn set the Wicklow outfit on their way, and they had soon clinched a comfortable 3-0 win thanks to 3-1 wins for Judge against Meara and 3 time Irish Champ Jason Watson against Gribben. With the match over, Wallace and Loughran were called off with both their scores at 2-2.

It was a disappointingly one-sided affair to finish their campaign with, but the 5 players had certainly given a good account of themselves throughout the tournament. They were cheered on encouragingly all the way by five stellar supporters who braved the 600 mile round trip to ‘The Kingdom’, and they wished to express their thanks for the support to team sub Rory Mallon as well as Gary McNeill, Kevin O’Donnell, Joe Loughran and Pot Black club manager Celestine Loughran, who was responsible for the fund-raising efforts that enabled the team to cover their costs for the trip, and their thanks also to Columba Eastwood for his contribution towards the expenses involved.

Wicklow went on to lose the closest of semi-finals, 3-2 on the final black, to Celbridge from Kildare, Colm Gilcreest clearing with 41 to pinch the decider against Robbie Murphy. They then successfully defended the title by beating Belfast team Q.E.1 in the final 3-0.

Ironically, it was the second year in a row that the Pot Black team (they played as St. Patrick’s, Dungannon in 2012) had beaten a team in the northern qualifiers only to see that team go all the way to the final in Killarney.