Snooker: Morgan needs storming display to blow away grief's dark clouds

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The Independent Online
The death of his parents has had a profound effect on Darren Morgan's snooker career. Instead of a stacking his mantlepiece full of trophies, potentially the best player to come out of Wales now struggles to find the motivation to lift a cue. Tomorrow he plays in the Welsh Open in Newport knowing that his future is on the line. Guy Hodgson reports

As Darren Morgan left the Crucible last April he could see an end to his problems. The cloud that had descended on the death of his mother was lifting and he had clung on to a cherished spot in snooker's top 16.

On the way back to his home in south Wales his father said: "Your mother's gone, that's it, you can't do anything about it, you must look to the future. Next season, for the first time in eight or nine years you've got no problems, you're going to fly. You'll probably win two or three tournaments."

Two days later his father, Morgan Morgan, died.

Only Morgan, 31, can truly quantify his loss, but the rankings can provide a clue. Three years ago he was firmly established in the world's top eight, now he is provisionally ranked 19th. He finds snooker difficult, preferring to go fishing instead. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that when he plays in the Regal Welsh Open in Newport tomorrow his future will be on the line as well as a match.

If he holds on to his top 16 place this season, he says, it "will be like Christmas". He has problems practising properly and is in danger of becoming one of snooker's least fulfilled players. Just one tournament win, the 1996 Irish Masters, is a paltry return for a player of his ability.

"My father was my biggest critic and supporter, the driving force for me," Morgan said. "When you're used to being phoned down the club with `how many hours have you done today' or being told to go back to practise because you've gone home early, it's a massive hole to fill when it's no longer there.

"I love my wife and kids and I know I should focus on them as my inspiration, but it's not the same. I've been playing snooker for 15 years and I bet he's lived every ball. He couldn't be there all the time because of my mother's illness, but every single pot he was there with me."

Morgan's first inclination after his father died was to work like fury, to take out his grief on the table. But as the pain subsided his drive went with it and now he labours for two or three hours a day, just enough "so I'm not an embarrassment".

"I'm finding it very hard to get motivated," he said. "I've gone heavily into fishing to relax and sometimes I think I'd rather be doing that than playing snooker. It's a lot less hassle and there's no disappointment. You go by a river and if you catch something you catch something, if you don't you have a peaceful afternoon.

"It would be ludicrous if I did drop out of the top 16, because on my day I know I'm a top four player. It's cracking me up to know I'm struggling. I still want to be world champion."

If those comments are contradictory, it probably sums up Morgan's state of mind. If you had to pinpoint a weakness in his prime years it was his mental approach. He did not have the will of the great champion, or at least he had not acquired it before his troubles began.

Steve Davis, in his blinkered pomp, would not have let himself be distracted when the boxer Naseem Hamed turned up at the Crucible in the last World Championship to support Morgan's opponent, Stephen Hendry. He would have used it as a motivational tool, driving away the world featherweight champion with the weight of his scoring.

Morgan, 6-4 up in the quarter-final and playing as well as anyone in the tournament, could barely pot a ball and his impetus had gone by the time the interval was reached and he could insist that the flamboyantly- dressed Hamed was removed from his front-row seat. He lost 13-10, another near miss in a career of so many nearlys.

That is in the past, the very thing Morgan is trying not to dwell on. "For the first few tournaments this year my head was in a jam jar. I played terrible, couldn't pot a ball at the UK Championship [where he reached the last 16]. I started to improve and it proved to myself it's still all there and that if I can concentrate I can still play.

"A few months ago Terry Griffiths said I was the best player to come out of Wales, which is probably the biggest compliment I've had in my life. Coming from a former world champion it was fantastic. He doesn't know how the hell I haven't got a mantlepiece full of trophies. He can't understand it and neither can I."

Perhaps greater understanding will come in Newport this week at a tournament that is staged just a few miles from his home. Morgan's friends believe just a little encouragement will make all the difference, but a poor performance could push him too far the other way.

"When it's on your own back door everyone wants to do well, but sometimes it can be a little bit harder," Morgan said. "Everyone wants you to succeed and you want to do well for them in return. It puts pressure on you. Sometimes you handle it all right and other times you fall apart."

With everything that has happened in his life in the past two years, Morgan deserves a break. Perhaps then the clouds truly will disappear.