Snooker: Doherty ready to fulfil rich promise

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Ken Doherty hopes that his efforts today and tomorrow will give the Republic of Ireland what Alex Higgins, twice, and Dennis Taylor, unforgettably in 1985, gave Northern Ireland - a world title.

The first Embassy World Championship finalist from South of the Border in the event's 70-year history, he earned yesterday off by beating the Canadian number one, Alain Robidoux, 17-7 with a session to spare but kept one eye on the press room screen showing the Stephen Hendry vs James Wattana semi-final while keeping the other on the one featuring his beloved Manchester United.

Since turning professional seven years ago Doherty has won the Welsh Open, two Scottish Masters and last season's European League. But at the age of 27 this is not a large collection of titles for a world number seven.

Only in the Republic of Ireland's dramatic 10-9 semi-final win over England in the World Cup in Bangkok last November did he appear to forge a full alliance of passion and inspiration to his fine natural technique.

In his easy-going way he was earning pots of money - he is one of 13 cueists who have amassed more than a million pounds in prize money - but has not fulfiled his potential. His manager, Ian Doyle, does not allow his players to forget the work ethic.

"Ken's a good lad, not a drinker, not one for late nights but he could sleep for Ireland," said this supportive martinet.

"He was bleary-eyed at twenty past eleven with his UK semi-final due to start at two o'clock. John Higgins beat him 9-3."

Ascertaining from the young Dubliner's mother that he was rising no earlier, and determined that he should not continue as snooker's answer to Burlington Bertie, Doyle gave him: "A good coating," and let the Irish newspapers know why.

"Maybe Ian did have a point," said Doherty, who came over to Ilford three weeks before the championship to practise seven hours a day with Ronnie O'Sullivan, who departed from Sheffield a week ago with his second-round loser's cheque for pounds 16,800 and the expectation of a further pounds 165,000 for his first-round maximum unless it is equalled in the next two days.

Hendry, meanwhile, has been pursuing his seventh world title in eight years with only spasmodic excellence. A long season in which he has won five titles, helped Scotland win the World Cup and been involved in the latter stages of most other events had drained him even before three hard- fought wins at the Crucible over Andy Hicks 10-6, Mark Williams 13-8 from 8-8 and Darren Morgan 13-10 from 4-6.

At 7-3 he seemed to be coasting against Wattana but lost four of the remaining five frames on Friday. Fear and desire seem to be needed to bolt his concentration into place and from his overnight 8-8 he made breaks of 78, 66, 70 and 63 to win yesterday's first four frames.

Wattana, who has been producing his best form for two seasons, led early in each by 19, 53, 28 and 32 respectively but missed too many easy balls, particularly the ones which halted the two contributions which left him 53-0 ahead in the second.

Hendry fluked the second ball of his reply and cleared nervelessly the crucial black ball which put him two clear.

At four clear he lost intensity, much as he had on Friday as Wattana halved the gap with frame-winners of 77 and 75. But Hendry, with a winning 55 and a last two reds to blue clearance secured the last two frames before lunch to leave himself needing only four out of the evening's nine to extend his Crucible winning streak to 29 matches.