So is it possible to pull all this into one piece? Let’s have a go, because yet again Ronnie O’Sullivan has propelled snooker way, way beyond its own traditional interest base.
There will be those that didn’t want to hear it but when World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn described the Rocket as “almost bigger than the sport” on Tuesday morning on BBC Radio Five Live he was being honest and accurate.
Honest, because he and many executives at World Snooker and the WPBSA spend much of the year at home and overseas saying pretty much the opposite – that the game can and does do without O’Sullivan just fine.
But that is not true. It does nowhere near as well without him on or off the table, and even seasoned media professionals were taken aback at the explosion of interest in the UK and beyond in the story surrounding O’Sullivan’s snubbed 147 at the BetVictor Welsh Open on Monday afternoon.
The power of the O’Sullivan publicity machine remains undiminished, and is arguably even heightened in these days of rarer appearances.
As any wind-up merchant from a talk-show host to a Twitter troll knows, polarising opinion gets you noticed. And O’Sullivan appears to have split people into those who are bewitched by his genius, and those who think he is a disrespectful and selfish brat. It is pure story gold for us lot.
O’Sullivan, as by now the man (or woman) on the moon probably knows, asked mid-break against Barry Pinches what the prize was for a maximum and on hearing it was ‘only’ £10,000 decided to allow the devil that occasionally sits on his left shoulder onto the table to make a statement.
The problem for O’Sullivan is that a 147 is not worth £169,000 (the most he has won for one) or any other figure by right. It is worth what someone is prepared to pay for it, and right now that is a rolling prize pot starting at £5,000 and going up by £5,000 an event if one is not made.
And the irony of course is that if one single person could be said to have taken a little magic off the actual feat itself, then despite the brilliant execution that could be the man who has made more than any other?
Some fans of the sport (and probably some who have never watched it before) are out for blood, accusing O’Sullivan of dishonouring and disrespecting his sport, himself, his family and his pets. As he admitted on Tuesday on talkSPORT, “I probably should have done the 147”. But when he is out there, that clear thinking can disappear.
Some punters are unhappy, I would be if I had backed a max in that match. Some spectators were disappointed, I might have been had I taken young kids for a sight of the great man. But even these, won’t they have a reasonable tale to tell for the rest of their lives?
Of all the criticism Ali Carter’s rings truest. If the Rocket really had a point to make, make the 147, donate it to charity and then use the press conference to say why. That gets almost as much publicity. Almost. But that requires full clarity of thought in the heat of battle, something O’Sullivan has already admitted isn’t always there.
My job as a journalist for national newspapers is to take snooker outside its comfort zone, outside its heartlands and die-hard fan base, to the wider sporting public and even beyond. This kind of story is manna from heaven and I wish more players had that power.
You will, I can almost guarantee, in the next couple of days see news and features columnists who wouldn’t know one end of a snooker cue from the other, lambasting O’Sullivan for squandering the equivalent of a nurse’s training year salary.
There is a bigger question for snooker to answer – how on earth do we get this publicity when he is gone. It isn’t going to be easy. There are some great players out there playing the game to a supremely high standard but O’Sullivan still has an X Factor above all others. He has earned that, but the more we see challenging it in whatever way, the better.
Photograph courtesy of Monique Limbos