Photo: Phil Horan, Winner of the Frank Lodge Trophy, runner up in the Marshall Cup.
Birch Pairs semi-final’s & final @ Tarleton Bowling Club
This year’s winning pair in the Birch Handicapped Pairs our Paul Connor & Andy O’Hara after over-coming Andy Hardisty & Lee Holmes from Banks on a final re-spotted black ball. The fact that Paul was carrying a shoulder injury into the finals, self inflicted so I was told by Paul, meant that the onus was on Andy O’Hara to do all the scoring. But it was the injured senior player who sunk the final black ball to take the trophy back to Churchtown and Paul & Andy’s first ever cup individual win.
Paul & Andy’s opponents in their semi-final showdown were Mick Coxon & Les Prescott of Churchtown Cons with all four players struggling to find any rhythm early on. All four players potted some good opening reds but were all guilty of missing colours or playing poor safety shots. Eventually Andy O’Hara got his hand on the table with several reds left in the open and made a telling contribution of 32 to gain near 40 point lead. As Paul broke off in the second frame they were sat on a 39 point lead of which Les & Mick could just not get back and eventually conceded defeat with a few colours left on the table.
In the other semi-final Lee Holmes & Andy Hardisty made short work of Andy Reynolds & Dave Mills of Les Dodd’s running away with the first frame to take a 32 point lead into the second frame. With Lee potting some very good long shots and Andy keeping things tight, they kept their opponents at arm’s length keeping their options down to minimal chances, and eventually made the final with a bit to spare.
The final started with both pairings playing off scratch, as they all did in the semi-finals, so it was imperative that you got off to a good start to put your opponents on the back foot. But again, both pairings where guilty of missed pots and failed to put some distance between themselves and the other pair. The better chances however did go the way of Paul & Andy and they eventually potted their way to a near 40 point lead with only the colours left on the table. Lee replied by getting most of the colours, and it left a 32 points difference going into the second frame. This lead was increased by Paul, who was really struggling with his shoulder problem now, when he managed to make a 12 break early on in the frame. This seemed to deflate the lads from Banks but they were still in the frame with plenty left on the table. With 6-8 reds left their confidence seemed to come back as they started to reel off the balls, making three little breaks in the teens to put themselves some 5 points in-front going into the colours. Again both sets of players missed great chances to take the frame and match no more than when Paul, who was left with a half-ball black into the corner pocket to take the win for his team. Yes, he was using the rest, the Achilles heel of many a player, but his attempt brought laughter not cheers as him nearly missed the black altogether and over cut it onto the back cushion. Andy O’Hara probably had the next best chance to take the match but when he missed the black into the green pocket, the black crept its way along the cushion to be right over the yellow pocket and it was Andy Hardisty’s chance to take the match into overtime and to a re-spotted black ball finish. Paul called the toss wrong and so was asked to bat first and the challenge of putting the black safe. Andy O’Hara stepped up to take the all important opening shot and chipped the black onto the side rail, leaving the white on the opposite cushion which can invite the double if you get it wrong. Andy Hardisty seemed to be thinking of that shot as soon as he walked round to assess the situation and quickly attempted the double. It missed, hitting the grunt of the pocket to eventually leave a tricky cross table cut for Paul to go for. The shot left was 10 times harder than the missed black he had with the rest some three shots earlier but he sunk the black with all the grace and style of a player who never thought he going to miss it anyway. A great shot, and a great way to win any cup competition.
Lucas Open @ Churchtown Cons – Andy O’Hara v Les Sullivan
The show piece final of the year, the Major Lucas Open, was won by Andy O’Hara who came back from 3-1 down to a final frame victory away from Les Sullivan of Birkdale Cons. It topped off what has been a very good week and year for Andy after he won the 1st division title with Mere Brow and the Birch Pairs final with Paul Connor earlier in the week.
The final started well for Andy who made a quick fire 32 break in the opening frame only for Les to take the frame with some really good long pots on the final colours to take it away from Andy 52-45 on the final black. Les seemed to be handling the table better than his opponent in the opening exchanges, making the most of the missed chances left by Andy and opened up a twenty point lead early on in the next. But the pots dried up and he couldn’t keep Andy out in the middle part of the frame and the player from Mere Brow levelled up the frames with some confident shots taking it 55-32. The third frame saw Les get his nose back in front with some good attacking shots, limiting Andy to long range pot-come-safeties, of which none were finding the back of the pocket at all. Les took a 2 frames to 1 lead as both players took a quick break before the onslaught of the final four frames.
The break seemed to make no difference to either player as Andy continued with his shoot on sight philosophy and Les wasting no time at all in making his mind up what shot he was going to play. It was a quick fire match, and both players wanted to make sure that they punished their opponent’s mistakes where possible. Les took the fourth frame after Andy made a poor safety shot leaving Les the simple task of potting the blue and pink for a 3-1 lead. One frame required for the player from Birkdale while Andy O’Hara had to win all of the remaining three frames to take the title of Lucas Open winner for himself.
The fifth frame would provide the most drama, and ultimately prove to be a big momentum swing in favour of Mere Brow player. Les seemed to tighten up somewhat and where his safety shots were finding the back cushion with some regularity, were coming back up to the baulk like. His cueing, which had stayed true and straight for the opening four frames, began to fail him and he missed a few simple shots. But it was Andy who blinked first in the closing part of this frame when potting the brown to only go in-off in the middle bag. Ball in hand, brown on its spot, blue in the open, it seemed the perfect way for Les to seal a historic Lucas win. He needed all of the balls up to the pink and started up by potting the brown into the middle bag, gaining good position onto the blue. This provided a good angle to get back for the pink, but he over hit this positional pot and left himself in a tricky spot to pot the pink and hold for the black. He missed the pink and Andy was let off, even if he wasn’t left a shot on the pink. But three or so shots later it was Andy who left the pink on, right over the green pocket with the white next to the black, which was on its spot. It was a tough enough shot in normal circumstances, but made even harder considering the situation of the match. Les tried to pump the white ball round the table, forcing the white to gain position in the black but he missed the vital part of the shot, the pink. Andy pounced potting the pink to take a very dramatic fifth frame 70-61.
Now it was Andy who was on the front foot and the player with the most fire power left in his game as Les was left to mull over the missed pink. With Les trying to erase the memory of that missed pink ball, and possible title win Andy O’Hara took the sixth frame in a blur pots, making three rapid breaks of 24, 26 & 17 to take us into a deciding frame. The seventh and final frame followed a similar pattern to the frame before as Andy went on full attack mode sweeping in nearly every ball he went for running up a 50 plus points difference before Les could really answer back. Breaks of 30 and 26 for Andy sealed Les’s fate and when the Birkdale player returned to the table some 68-10 points behind with only 51 left on it looked the impossible dream. He attempted to pot a red, missed and shook hands with Andy to concede what was a remarkable come-back from his opponent.
Andy O’Hara adds his name to the list of the great and good who have won this trophy, which has been dominated by Gareth Hibbott over the past 5 years. But having beaten Gareth in one of the earlier rounds, plus team mates Danny Jassi and Martin Brown plus Tarletons Andy Bolton, he has probably deserved this victory more than most. For Les he will be thinking of what if, but he gave it his all and just came up against a player inspired form for those final two frames.
Marshall Handicap Final @ Southport Cons – Gareth Hibbott v Phil Horan
This year’s Marshall Handicap final was won by Fleetwood’s very own snooker star Gareth Hibbott as he beat Birkdale’s Phil Horan in impressive style three frames to nil. In front of a very good crowd, Gareth played some of the his best snooker in recent months to make no less than six contributions of 23 or better with his best effort, a 83 in the third and final frame of the match. It was Gareth’s seventh success in the Marshall handicap, his first coming way back in 1989, and puts him on 41 individual cup trophy wins in the Southport League.
It was a bit like a rabbit in the headlights for Birkdale’s Phil Horan who struggled to keep the Fleetwood player out, and even with the 50 point handicap he was soon on the back of a first frame defeat after Gareth made breaks of 48 and a 32 clearance. That was just the beginning of the potting onslaught from Gareth as he made telling contributions of 37, 26 and 23 to sweep away the second frame in similar fashion to the first. The crowd, whom were very much enjoying the final being played out in front of them, then saw a bit of a turnaround in fortunes as Phil made his first telling contributions in the match. Phil managed to open up a 71 point lead on Gareth before he had even potted a ball, and it seemed like the match would progress into the fourth frame out of the possible five we could have on the night. But Gareth relishes a challenge and it soon became perfectly clear what his intentions were with the remaining eight or so reds still left on the table. He began to pick the reds off one by one, and positioned the white with pin point accuracy to take the last two reds with superb positional shots. As the final blue ball was sunk it meant the frame was safe and a 3-0 victory for the Marshside player. He missed the black but that didn’t matter as Phil congratulated him on a very fine potting display.
I wish to thank all of those who helped out in hosting the semi-finals and finals over these past weeks or so and to Southport Cons for their efforts in holding this year’s Snooker Presentation. It has been a good year all round with the titles in the 1st and 3rd divisions going to the very last week of the season and Waddington Cons going through the whole of the 2nd division unbeaten. Some of the finals have been very memorable, probably the best one being the Frank Lodge final, if only I had remembered that at the Presentation night, oops, sorry. So I wish you all the best for the coming summer months and very much look forward to seeing you all back in September for the 2015-16 season.
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