During the Masters last January there was, to much hilarity, a power cut just before Ding Junhui’s match against Shaun Murphy. Ricky Walden could have been forgiven for wishing it had happened during his quarter-final against Ronnie O’Sullivan later in the week because that was the only way O’Sullivan could seemingly be stopped.
Setting a new unanswered points record of 556, he was in imperious form. Some felt it was the best anyone had ever played. But you get that feeling a lot watching O’Sullivan, and it happened many more times during 2014.
Perhaps the most telling thing about the Walden match, though, wasn’t the performance but O’Sullivan’s own reaction to it. Often in the past he would have played it down, almost deliberately puncturing the bubble of joy it brought others because it brought none for him. But since his consultations with Dr. Steve Peters, there has been none of that. He’s enjoying his snooker and that makes him more dangerous than ever.
O’Sullivan won the Masters for a fifth time, he won the Welsh Open for a third, he defended his Champion of Champions title and won a fifth UK Championship. He made two 147s. His pick and choose strategy to the circuit has not had a detrimental bearing on his world ranking.
A sixth World Championship triumph looked on the cards the way he bulldozed his way past the likes of Murphy and Barry Hawkins, but Mark Selby beat him in the final.
Again, though, O’Sullivan took this on the chin. Results and trophies are nice but they aren’t as important as being happy in life.
It’s been some career, at times glorious, at times notorious, at times seemingly hanging by a thread. That’s why his greatest achievement is surely coming back from quasi-retirement to return to the summit of the sport, looking better than ever.
O’Sullivan had another project this year, his own programme on Eurosport, which has been very well received. He isn’t a journalist but has a natural charm and inquisitiveness which has helped him illicit some very interesting answers from the likes of Neil Robertson, Jimmy White, Steve Davis and Barry Hearn.
They felt more like chats than interviews and were all the better for that. Another highlight were Ronnie’s masterclasses in which he explained the rudimentary elements of technique and how to play certain shots.
But knowing how to do something and actually doing it, especially when the pressure is on, is what separates mere mortals from the greats.
O’Sullivan will be 40 next year, an age where players are supposed to be in decline. But he isn’t. Rather, he has risen to new heights of confidence and contentment.
He is the sort of sportsman who will still be talked about many years in the future but should be celebrated now, for his achievements, his pulling power and his continuing contribution to snooker.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.