UNLESS Michael Wasley wins the last nine frames against Dominic Dale from Monday lunchtime Alan McManus will be the lowest-ranked player in the quarter-final line-up this year at the Dafabet World Championship, as well as the oldest.
The 43-year-old Scot’s run to the last eight, for a fourth time in all and a first occasion for nine years, has been one of the feel-good stories about this year’s tournament – and not only for the dashing Mackenzie tartan trousers sported in wins over fellow Scot John Higgins and Ireland’s Ken Doherty.
As Ian Poulter has shown certainly with his Ryder Cup exploits, it is all very well having the fancy strides but you have got to back it up. And that McManus has unquestionably done over the first nine days of the tournament, even helped by the loan of a ‘lucky belt’ from the media room when the loose trousers risked causing embarrassment on television..
All of his finest achievements came in the 1990s. There were two Crucible semi-finals in 1992 and 1993, the last of which – against Stephen Hendry – saw the pair enter the arena and down the famous steps to the sounds of a piper.
There was a Masters title success at the old Wembley Conference Centre in 1994, where he beat Hendry 9-8 to end his long unbeaten run in the competition. And later that year casme the first of two ranking title successes, the Dubai Classic to which was added the Thailand Open two years later.
Now in his 24th year as a professional McManus never gave up, but equally never really looked likely to match those achievements as a new and powerful breed of player – John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams - came through to pick up where Hendry left off. These three, after all, have won 69 ranking titles between them.
Within the last two years McManus found himself as low as No55 in the world rankings, but in more recent months there has been something of a renaissance. McManus started to win matches and make venues, and then at the 2013 Welsh Open reached his first ranking quarter-final for seven years, only losing to eventual winner Stephen Maguire.
There have been wins over Judd Trump, Barry Hawkins and Joe Perry in major tournaments in that period, and the player known as ‘Angles’ for his tactical acumen is not only practising hard and playing with a smile on his face, but getting results.
McManus will of course be a huge underdog against world No3 Mark Selby, no slouch himself when it comes to the tactical side, and we may not be looking at a shootout of OK Corral standards – but more a competitive and hotly contested battle with no quarter asked or given. And McManus, if he gets it right, could still cause Selby problems.
A grounded, articulate and even cerebral man with a real sense of perspective on both snooker and life, McManus spends a lot of time practising and socialising with the other Scots on tour, especially Anthony McGill who is cut from a similar cloth and who the senior man expects to come good sooner rather than later.
‘Return of the Mack’ has been one of the more apt pieces of walk-on music heard at the Crucible in the first nine days, and the little notes McManus has been writing to himself, a combination of technical prompts and reminders to just enjoy it in the heat of battle, an indicator of his thorough approach.
And among all his other achievements, McManus was also part of the Scotland ‘Dream Team’ including Hendry and Higgins that won the 2001 Nations Cup with a 6-2 win over Ireland.
Now, out of the shadow of Hendry and Higgins and for the first time the last Scot standing at the Crucible, his country’s eyes are trained on his progress alone.
Photographs by Monique Limbos