THERE WILL BE four Crucible debutants in this year’s Betfred World Championship after Kurt Maflin earned a last gasp victory over Fergal O’Brien to secure the final qualifying place.
O’Brien, beaten 10-9 on a re-spotted black by Robbie Williams at the same stage last year, had a chance to win the decider but broke down on the green. Maflin eventually cleared to pink to win through 10-9 after a day of high drama at Ponds Forge.
Maflin thus joins Craig Steadman, Anthony McGill (pictured above) and Stuart Carrington as the Crucible newcomers this year, taking the number of players who will have competed on snooker’s most famous stage since the championship moved to Sheffield in 1977 to 196.
McGill has in fact played at the Crucible before, in the one frame Junior Pot Black in 2006 and has made the transition to the senior ranks in style, finishing off against Mark King with a 127 break to win 10-9.
He becomes the 19th Scot to compete at the Crucible as his career continues to take an upward turn following a run to this season’s UK Championship quarter-finals.
“I’ve no idea where that break came from,” McGill said. “I wish I did as I could do it more often. I thought I’d blown it so maybe that made me calmer.
“I got to about 75 and started thinking about the Crucible. That’s when I started smiling. My first memory of snooker is watching the 1998 World Championship when John Higgins won it.
“Watching it every year, you just think the Crucible is Mecca. And now I have the chance to play there. I’m just delighted.”
Carrington - who beat McGill in that Junior Pot Black final - comes from the snooker hotbed of Grimsby, a town which has sent Ray Edmonds, Mike Hallett, Dean Reynolds and Sean Storey to the Crucible in years gone by.
English amateur champion two years ago, he has now taken the most important step of his professional career after beating Li Hang 10-9.
“Getting over the line, I was ecstatic. The relief, the excitement – it’s unbelievable,” Carrington said.
“There’s been a number of Grimsby players who’ve got to the Crucible. This is a massive breakthrough for me.”
The four debutants join a wealth of experienced players in qualifying. There’s a former champion in Graeme Dott, twice runner-up Matthew Stevens, twice semi-finalist Alan McManus and three times quarter-finalist Ryan Day. Jamie Jones is another former quarter-finalist while Mark Davis and Robert Milkins will bring their vast playing experience to the table.
Robin Hull will be making his third appearance there and Robbie Williams, Jimmy Robertson, Matt Selt and Zhang Anda their second.
Pretty much all the qualifiers said the same thing: delighted to get to the Crucible but they would rather not play on Saturday.
This has been a mentally draining experience, with everything on the line – in some cases whole careers. The players would therefore prefer some recovery time before the TV stages but five of them will be playing on Saturday and one will play two sessions against the defending champion, Mark Selby.
The main thing, though, is just to be there. 128 players began the qualifiers but 112 have fallen by the wayside. The 16 who have made it through have worked extremely hard to earn their crack at the top 16 seeds.
The draw will be made live by Barry Hearn and Steve Davis on World Snooker’s official YouTube channel at 10.30 BST on Thursday.
Then we will know who is playing who when the Crucible opens its doors on Saturday morning and 17 days of intense sporting drama finally begins.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.