WHILE STEPHEN HENDRY is rightly credited with providing the inspiration for the rebirth of Scottish snooker, Alan McManus has been another key figure in the development of talent north of the border.
The 1994 Masters champion mentored John Higgins when the future multi-world champion was a teenager, helping him to improve his game and cope with life in the high pressure world of professional snooker. More recently McManus has been giving wise counsel to Anthony McGill, who beat Stephen Maguire in a Crucible thriller at the Betfred World Championship on Sunday night.
McGill’s debut appearance in the televised phase of the game’s biggest event was marked by his 122 break in the decider after Maguire fought back from 9-5 down – similar to the 127 he made to beat Mark King 10-9 from 9-6 up in the final qualifying round last week.
Two such confident wins came as no surprise to McManus, who has been watching McGill’s progress these last few years with pride.
McManus, who starts out himself on Monday night against Ali Carter, rates his young protégé so highly that he feels he has a chance to become world champion in the near future as the Crucible, where so many have faltered over the years, suits his temperament.
“He’s such a good player,” said McManus after qualifying within a few minutes of McGill at Ponds Forge in Sheffield.
“People have no idea how good this boy is. He’s going to be in the top 16 sooner rather than later. There’s no doubt about that whatsoever. It just depends how high in the game he can go. He’s got every tool in the box that you need.
“I think he could win at the Crucible one year. The thing I always think about the Crucible is that it’s tailor-made for some guys: a Robertson or a Selby, because of their temperament, attitude and work ethic.
“A lot of guys have gone there and crumbled. So many great players have gone there and never won a match under that roof. Ants isn’t one of them. He’ll do some damage there over the years.”
McManus is widely respected not just for his achievements in the sport, which includes two Crucible semi-final appearances, but also his analytical skills, which he has been putting to good use as part of the ITV4 commentary team at the Champion of Champions and World Grand Prix.
And McGill knows that his advice comes from someone who has been there, done that after a quarter of a century as a professional.
“I’ve tried to give him advice having walked the path as a pro for a number of years,” McManus said. “I’ve seen guys go one way and some guys go another. I know what their habits have been, what they do and don’t do, who they mix with or don’t mix with.
“I just tell Ants all the time if I see something that’s not going to help him to give it a miss. Just things, like separate yourself from the crowd. That’s what Davis and Hendry did. You have to separate yourself. You can’t just be part of the in-crowd. You don’t want to be. This is a one-man band, this game.
“He listens. We have times on the table when we talk about things and he’s a sponge, he really listens. He’s some player and I’m proud of him. He’s a really nice boy. You couldn’t meet a nicer lad. He’s quiet and unassuming but he’s a tiger out there.
“He does all the smiling. He was 3-2 down to Neil Robertson in Germany, walking round the table smiling. Neil said to him after the match, why are you smiling? Ants said, I’m just trying to put myself in a happy place. That’s what he’s like, he’s fun.”
McManus may be a mentor but he is also still very much a player with a renaissance in recent years which has seen him re-join the top 32 and reach the Crucible three years running.
Last year he defeated one former champion in Mark Williams to qualify and two more in John Higgins and Ken Doherty to reach the quarter-finals.
“I want to enjoy my snooker,” McManus said. “The travelling is difficult. It’s hard not to moan on Twitter because we’ve been away a bunch lately and you're sat in a hotel room, but it’s better than it used to be when there weren’t many tournaments.
“I play for enjoyment. I play for pain and punishment. I’ll hit some balls and give someone some problems.”
One talking point last year was McManus’s distinctive tartan trousers. So are they making a return?
“I’ll probably wear them,” he said. “Is there any reason why not, apart from that I look a pillock? I don’t care. When you’re 44 you can look a pillock.”
Photographs by Monique Limbos.