Snooker: Doherty's joy is hard on Hendry

Guy Hodgson reports on the Irishman who deposed a snooker legend
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The Independent Online
It is a measure of the man that when he was beaten everyone assumed something was wrong with Stephen Hendry. Was he ill? Was there something on his mind? How could he perform so, well, un-Hendry like?

The immediate focus was on Ken Doherty after his 18-12 win in the final of the Embassy World Championship on Monday, but Hendry's lacklustre performance formed a substantial backcloth. The champion had not lost at Sheffield's Crucible since 1991; to succumb at the last within touching distance of a record seventh title was cruel but fascinating.

The BBC do not have the verified viewing figures for the final, but their interim estimate is that eight million tuned in for the climax, confirming an upturn in interest in the game. Like Steve Davis at his peak, people have nothing against Hendry except they want to see him beaten. As the six-times champion said sardonically: "It will be a popular result."

As indeed Doherty will be a popular champion. The 27-year-old from just outside Dublin had remained relatively unknown to the vast majority of even regular snooker watchers, thanks largely to his poor showings at the World Championship. He had been to Sheffield six times previously and had never got beyond the quarter-finals, but if ever a victory was borne on the back of hard labour it was this one.

It is hard to believe that six weeks before collecting his pounds 210,000 winner's cheque, Doherty's manager was despairing of him. There is little wrong with him, Ian Doyle said, but "he could sleep for Ireland". As a last resort he lambasted Doherty in the Irish press and got a reaction that was remarkable.

For four weeks Doherty stopped going home to Ireland and instead practised seven hours a day with Ronnie O'Sullivan at Ilford Snooker Club. The effect was Doherty's title - only his second ranking tournament since turning professional in 1990 - while O'Sullivan knocked in the fastest competitive maximum in history.

Up to the final, Doherty had played the best snooker at the Crucible, but beating the likes of Davis is not the same as defeating Hendry. That was shown when the champion was 15-7 down and seemingly running out of energy. His response was to win five frames in a row and to recall memories of his fightback from 14-8 down against Jimmy White in the 1992 final.

At 15-12, the tide was with the holder, but missing the third last red along the back cushion proved to be the high water mark. "I was shaking like a leaf," Doherty said. "I had lost a bad frame just before it and my heart dropped. I was pretty low. If he had got within two frames it could have gone either way."

Fortunately for Doherty his nerve held for a break of 17 and, having gone four ahead again he fell over the line to become the first world champion from the Republic of Ireland. "It's marvellous for my family," he said. "They were all out there playing. They were potting every ball."

For Doherty the immediate future is a trip to Dublin to join the family celebrations, and a year to balance his new found enthusiasm for work against the commercial opportunities his status will bring. Meanwhile, Hendry will spend the next 12 months toiling to depose him.

"It's not disastrous, but it is disappointing," said Hendry, who has won five other tournaments this season. "I'd swap the world title for the other events, but I'm No 1 in the world by a country mile and that's a consolation to take away. I've had a season that many other players would die for. I'm only 28. I'm not gone yet."

Doherty fact file

1969: Born 17 September, Dublin.

1989: Became World Amateur Champion.

1990-91: Turned professional and lost to Steve Davis in first round of World Championship.

1992-93: Won first ranking tournament, the Regal Welsh Open.

1993-94: Beaten by Jimmy White in World Championship quarter-finals.

1994-95: Went out of World Championship at first hurdle.

1995-96: Won the Dr Marten's European League.

1996-97: Captained Ireland to final of World Cup. Won world title.