How relegation from the World Snooker tour can be a blessing in disguise
The fear of relegation is the worst nightmare of any snooker professional currently on the tour, but the recent resurgence of Ken Doherty is a prime example of the fact that it is not always a bad thing.
At the end of every season, the ultimate aim for every player in the lower echelons of the game is to finish inside the top 64 of the rankings, or in the top eight on the one-year list as a final resort.
Failure to do so will result in the players in question losing their professional status and, in most cases, having to enter Q School in order to regain their card.
It is only recent years that new professionals have been given two seasons to climb into the world’s top 64 and consolidate their tour status as opposed to one, but that does not make the task in hand any easier.
A poor 2016/17 campaign in which he won just nine matches – three of which came in the single-frame Shootout – saw 1997 World champion Doherty finish outside the top 64 and, way off the mark on the one-year list, be relegated from the tour.
However, given the recent introduction of the invitational cards with the likes of Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and James Wattana being offered them due to their services to snooker, the popular Irishman was thrown the same lifeline by World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn and has not looked back since.
The Dubliner has come flying out of the blocks this season – reaching the semi-finals of the Riga Masters, while also qualifying for the final stages of the other four ranking events so far.
He has claimed some very good scalps along the way, too, in the likes of Anthony McGill, Ali Carter and, most recently, world number six Barry Hawkins to qualify for the European Masters.
Doherty is not the only player to enjoy a resurgence following relegation, with fellow returnees Jimmy White and Paul Davison reaching the Last 16 in Riga a couple of months ago.
Anthony Hamilton only survived via the Order of Merit at the end of the 2015/16 campaign and has since gone on to claim the first ranking title of his long career at the German Masters, while returning to the world’s top 32.
During the 2012/13 season, Joe Swail embarked on an impressive run to the Paul Hunter Classic final to regain his tour card just three months after losing it, while Rod Lawler marked his immediate return to the professional circuit by claiming his first tournament victory carrying ranking points at a Players Tour Championship event in Gloucester.
And what about Neil Robertson, who has gone on to become one of the most successful overseas players in the game’s history? Everyone within the snooker circle knows the story of him standing in the queue at the job centre back home in Australia after his second tour relegation in 2002, before changing his mind and walking out before going on to become world number one and one of an elite group of players to complete the Triple Crown.
And then we have Kyren Wilson, who qualified for the 2014 World Championship in his first season back and, just two years later, won his first ranking title on the way to climbing into the world’s top 16.
But, after struggling to make the necessary impact on the tour and subsequently being relegated, why has it suddenly clicked for these players at the second time of asking?
Well, first and foremost, facing the reality of relegation will certainly give them a kick up the backside, while making them more appreciative and aware of the need to work a lot harder on the practice table.
Also, particularly in the cases of Doherty and Hamilton, the second chance has been very invigorating with the opportunity for a fresh start and new outlook on snooker.
The quality that both men possess is backed by what they have achieved in the game but, without the pressure that comes with the battle to avoid falling off the tour, both now have the freedom to just play and express themselves.
Yes, relegation from the professional tour must be avoided at all costs and if you can avoid getting into that situation in the first place then all the better.
However, with the right attitude, dedication and mental strength to turn things around, it may just well be a blessing in disguise.