Cahill on life's tough breaks: Stephen Hendry snub was blessing in disguise
"Nothing to lose? Not for me." James Cahill explains why he is an amateur qualifier with plenty to lose against Ronnie O'Sullivan at the World Championship, writes Desmond Kane.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Having survived the dog-eat-dog experience of three qualifying rounds to reach the starting grid at this year’s World Championship, James Cahill has been handed the nightmarish task of coping with Ronnie O’Sullivan, tournament favourite, ultimate crowd pleaser and harbinger of doom for the hopeful have-a-go heroes perched opposite.
It is a cue sports challenge that has been somewhat morbidly described by the 1991 world champion John Parrott as "trying to hold a tiger by the tail". At least the tiger would finish the job quickly. The gruelling nature of the World Championship means Cahill could have to sit through at least 10 frames of Rocket Ronnie rapidly devouring his prey in their first-round tête-à-tête.
To put this generation game into perspective, 500-1 long shot Cahill was only five when O’Sullivan held aloft the first of his five world titles with an 18-14 win over John Higgins in 2001. Cahill is quite prepared to take a walk on the wild side against the Chigwell chap on Monday and Tuesday at the Crucible, a taut little sporting theatre made for magic, misery and melting. Sometimes all at once.
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“I don’t mind playing him. I don’t mind playing anyone. I know it’s the toughest draw,” opines Cahill. “I’ve played him three times before. I’ve played well against him in the past, but have obviously never played him here.
“I’ve beaten Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, Ding Junhui and Shaun Murphy in the past..I’ve proved I can beat good players.”
For Cahill, snooker has always been child’s play. The 23-year-old qualifier from Blackpool who hones his technique at his parent’s club in Preston was so keen to devote himself to the ways of the green baize that he wanted to get started before secondary school.
“My mum and dad got me playing on crates when I was four,” said Cahill.
"When I finished school, all I wanted to do was play snooker. I even told my mum when I just left primary school that I wanted to play snooker full-time. "
“But she said to me: 'you’ve got to finish school first, but if you finish school and still want to do it, we’ll have a talk and sit down'.
“I just loved playing, and school wasn’t really for me. I wasn’t stupid and did okay in my exams.
“I would never want to work for someone doing a 9-5 job, and all I’ve ever thought about was playing snooker.
“It was just a matter of leave school and do it full-time. I started playing properly when I was 12, and made my first century when I was 13 or 14. That was pretty much it, and I turned professional at 17.”
Cahill hopes to be shining as brightly as the illuminations of his native Blackpool when he confronts his fellow Englishman O'Sullivan.
His career so far has had more ups and downs than the big dipper at the seaside town’s Pleasure Beach. His first raw experience of snooker was hardly pleasurable.
Plunged onto the professional tour after carrying off the European Under-21 Championship in 2013, he downed the former Masters and UK winner Ding Junhui a year later, but was relieved of his tour card two years ago after wins became as rare as the pink moon.
Snooker is a rat race with the sport's king rat only too eager to feed off any scraps left at the table. The platitudes count for nothing when the other bloke is forced to sit and suffer with as much impotence as being tied to his chair and muffled.
It can be the most pain free yet painful mental experience in professional sport. It is a game low on favours, but high on machismo. Cahill has cherubic looks, but is aware of the deal he signed up for.
“Sport and snooker is all about looking after yourself, and making sure you are all right because that is why guys like Ronnie are at the top of the game. They aren't there to feel sorry for you,” he said.
“I started playing full-time when I was 15. My mum got us a table in the house. I won the European Championship, got on tour, but I probably wasn’t ready.
“I thought I was good, but I came on tour and discovered I had a lot to learn. I’m a lot more mature. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I was on tour before. Now I’m a lot sharper.
“Ronnie plays the game correctly, he doesn't turn shots down. Stephen Hendry was the same. You have to strive to be better than them.”
Stephen Hendry of Scotland celebrates victory with the trophy after winning the 1999 Embassy World Snooker Championships Final match against Mark Williams of Wales played at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England.Eurosport
Seven-times champion Hendry is Cahill’s former nephew by law, and his son Blaine Hendry is his best friend, but he has not called on the ties that bind to boost his brush strokes.
He admits requesting Hendry’s help when he set out on his snooker sojourn, but his plea fell on deaf ears.
It is somewhat ironic that Cahill faces Hendry’s great nemesis O’Sullivan, who will move to within one world title of the retired Scotsman if he lifts his first trophy in these parts since 2013.
Rejection has not hindered his ambition.
“I wish he did, who was better to ask than him? I asked him a few times. He just didn’t seem bothered, that’s the best way to describe it,” said Cahill.
"Even now it would be nice, but it’s just one of those things. He’s not really bothered about doing it. I only see when him he’s at tournaments. His son is my best friend so I’ll speak to him through that. I can’t help that. If I had a nephew, I know for sure I would help them. "
“It would have been nice, but he didn’t and I’m still here anyway. Who is to say if he helped me I might not have been here?”
“My mum used to manage a Riley’s in Blackpool. I used to play a lot of pool originally because I couldn’t reach the table at snooker," said Cahill.
“I wasn’t very good at that age. When I was 11 or 12, I’ve come into the club one day. My cue was massive, just too big for me.
“Frank Callan came into the club one day and have me a mini butt to see if it fitted my cue. Ironically, it did and from there, I’d get coaching from him every day.
Cahill, officially the first amateur to reach the last 32, sees himself as an outsider who has plenty to lose despite confirming his return to the professional main tour with wins over the battle-hardened trio of Andrew Higginson, Michael Holt and Michael Judge.
“When I beat Mark Selby at the UK Championship, people were saying before it I had nothing to lose,” said Cahill. "People always say this.
"Everybody keeps going on about the amateur status, but I’ve made the most centuries of all the players at qualifying this week. I still want to go out there, and perform for myself. You don’t want to go out there and make a fool of yourself. "
"There’s a lot of things people don’t realise. When I’m on tour next season, someone might be in my position.
“If the lower ranked players are not beating the amateurs, surely they don’t belong on the tour?
“If amateurs are consistently beating the pros, I think the question has to be asked: what’s going on there?”
It is a question he hopes O’Sullivan will be forced to confront when push comes to shove.
Desmond Kane at the Crucible Theatre
First-round results & latest scores (best of 19 frames)
- Mark Williams (Wal) 10-7 Martin Gould (Eng)
- David Gilbert (Eng) v Joe Perry (Eng)
- Barry Hawkins (Eng) v Li Hang (Chn)
- Kyren Wilson (Eng) v Scott Donaldson (Sco)
- John Higgins (Sco) 6-3 Mark Davis (Eng)
- Stuart Bingham (Eng) v Graeme Dott (Sco)
- Shaun Murphy (Eng) 10-0 Luo Honghao (Chn)
- Neil Robertson (Aus) 10-1 Michael Georgiou (Cyp)
- Mark Selby (Eng) v Zhao Xintong (Chn)
- Luca Brecel (Bel) 9-10 Gary Wilson (Eng)
- Jack Lisowski (Eng) v Ali Carter (Eng)
- Mark Allen (NI) v Zhou Yeulong (Chn)
- Judd Trump (Eng) v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (Tha)
- Ding Junhui (Chn) 10-7 Anthony McGill (Sco)
- Stephen Maguire (Sco) 10-9 Tian Pengfei (Chn)
- Ronnie O'Sullivan (Eng) v James Cahill (Eng)