Maguire sets Derwent ablaze

I’m sitting in the corner of Derwent bar only fourteen hours after ‘Revolver’. Pirates are not my thing and ‘donating’ a substantial amount to the quiz machine all added up to a very poor night. I have to forget about all that now, I’m about to interview presently, the fourth best snooker player in the world, Stephen ‘on fire’ Maguire.

For two weeks in December, the snooker extravaganza that is the UK Championship hits town. It is regarded as the second most prestigious title to win after the Embassy. Not many people had heard of Stephen Maguire prior to last year’s tournament. However, the way he cruised through his matches and the manner in which he handled the pressure of the event had a number of shrewd judges predicting him for even greater things. Looking around, the audience is quite sparse. When Ronnie O’Sullivan visited in 2002, the place was full to bursting point. I’m hoping the size of the crowd won’t affect Maguire’s mood.

Born in 1981 in Milton, Glasgow, it was clear from an early age that Maguire wanted to be a snooker player. “I was always down the snooker clubs when I should have been at school, I just couldn’t keep away. I just wanted to play snooker.” At the age of 14, He left school. A Courageous decision? “Not really,” He says, “I was just following my dream. My family were so supportive and I know a lot of people say this but I really couldn’t have done this without them.” After his UK Championship win, he paid particular tribute to his grandparents.”They knocked down a wall in their flat just so we could get a snooker table in there. How could I not say thanks?”

Maguire turned professional at the age of 17 and I ask whether he feels like he missed out on anything by dedicating his early years to snooker. “No because I was doing what I wanted to do. I’m not an academic person but I would have liked to go to University to experience the ‘craic’. However, turning pro was a very difficult decision, but I owed it to myself to see if I was any good. Nowadays, everybody turns pro about that age. Times are a lot different now.” I decide to bring up the controversial issue that is dogging snooker, the issue of the number of tournaments played and the consequent issue of prize money. “We used to play eight tournaments a year and now there’s only five. That’s not going to help the boys, there’s not a chance to get real match practice in. Also, if you cut down the amount of tournaments you cut down the amount of prize money. The older players take the piss out of us younger ones saying, “You should have been around ten years ago, loads of money back then. You missed out big time.” I ask what he really thinks about the situation, “If you printed that, I’d get into real trouble.” He says with a cheeky grin. Would he then like to go and play pool in America like O’ Sullivan? “Most definitely, I’d want to do that before I finish playing. Once I’m financially secure I’ll go over there.”

After their first round match in last years UK Championship, O’Sullivan declared that Maguire could ‘rule the game for the next ten years.’ “I was genuinely surprised at how easy the whole tournament was last year. Everything was coming so naturally, it was a great feeling to have. It felt like all the effort hadn’t been wasted.” However, this season has been a disappointment. Maguire finished bottom of the Premier League and was beaten in the first round of the Grand Prix in Preston. “I can’t point at anything in my game that needs urgent attention. There is such strength in depth at the top of the game that you need to be on top form for every match. Ten years ago you got easier matches. Not any more.”

Has winning the UK Championship changed him in any way? “No,” He says in a quiet voice, “I’m happy with who I am, and I’ve got my family to keep me on the ground. I’m just the same bloke I was five, ten years ago.” Even though I’ve only known him for around ten minutes, you can tell he’s geniune. There seems to be no ego with Maguire. He’s answered my questions thoughtfully and without a hint of arrogance. He reinforces this opinion when he plays the exhibition games against the students. A smile never leaves his face and even when he suffers a shock defeat he accepts it sportingly and warmly . A great reaction from an unpretentious individual who deserves all the success that will inevitably come his way.

By Christopher Lowther – Deputy Sports Editor
Photo by Georgi Mabee

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