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Joe Perry: Champion of Champions return “a big feather in my cap”

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Perry returns to the Champion of Champions after a six-year absence (Andrew Orchard sports photography/Alamy Live News)

Joe Perry admits playing in the Champion of Champions is “a big feather in my cap” ahead of his return to the prestigious invitational event.

The 48-year-old is the oldest player at this year’s tournament, where he will make his third appearance – and first since 2016 – after winning the Welsh Open in fairy-tale fashion back in March.

Perry locks horns with the in-form Mark Allen, who won the Northern Ireland Open 10 days ago, while Judd Trump and Luca Brecel complete the Group One line-up.

And the Gentleman knows he will have to hit the ground running at the Bolton Whites Hotel.

“It’s going to be a highlight of the season,” he told Live Snooker. “It’s a tournament that everyone really wants to get in.

“I’ve got in by winning one of the leading events throughout the season, so it feels a bit better this time going there as a Welsh Open winner. To play in events like the Champion of Champions at my age is a big feather in my cap really.

“It’s a great event and hopefully, I can find some good form in the tournament. You’ve got to be in top form from the minute you get your cue out.

“Sometimes, my form’s not there and my confidence isn’t high enough to compete. But when it all comes together, I think I’ve proved that I’ve got the game that can compete with the best.”

Perry certainly proved he can compete with the best in Newport just under eight months ago, when he overcame the likes of Allen, Kyren Wilson, Ricky Walden and Jack Lisowski, before a 9-5 victory over Judd Trump in the final.

Watched on by his parents, the former Masters runner-up reeled off the last four frames to claim only the second ranking title of his 31-year professional career, while becoming the oldest player since Ray Reardon to land silverware.

“When I finally hang my cue up โ€“ if nothing else happens between now and then โ€“ I think it’ll go down as the best moment of my career,” he smiled. “Purely because of the timings of it, the way it came about and the fact my parents were there to enjoy the moment with me.

“It just shows that perseverance, dedicate and hard work does pay off. All sports are hard. Especially in snooker, you’re either really high or really low โ€“ there’s very rarely middle ground.

“So, you spend lots of time fighting with yourself thinking ‘is it all worth it?’ Then you get moments like that and realise the answer is yes, it is all worth it.”

While still ranked in the top 32 into his fourth decade on the tour, Perry now hopes to inspire the next generation with his knowledge and knowhow, having recently turned his attention to coaching and been appointed ambassador of the renowned Cuestars Academy.

And after he was understandably flooded with enquiries initially, the Gentleman is now seeking the right balance between mentoring and prolonging his career.

“The calendar’s not as it was without China on the scene, so I was just looking to fill my time,” he explained. “Snooker is my passion and I’ve always liked to help people if I can, so I just put two and two together really.

“In the very beginning, I was coaching way more than I was practising and with where I am in the rankings, that’s not really advisable at the moment. I’m still a professional snooker player, so that has to come first.

“But as things change, I will really get into the coaching a lot more because it’s something I really enjoy.”

Perry’s deep knowledge of the sport has also seen him venture into broadcasting in recent times; regularly providing commentary and punditry at BBC and ITV-televised events when not playing.

A popular addition to the team with his cultured and articulate manner, the former Players Championship winner believes his current tour status enables him to offer a fresher perspective to viewers.

“I think I’m in quite a good place to give an opinion,” he said. “I never put myself in the ‘class of 92.’ I always say that I was in the same school, but not the same class.

“But I’ve come from those very beginnings with the likes of Ronnie [O’Sullivan], [John] Higgins and [Mark] Williams. I’ve seen snooker from the early stages when there were 600 or 700 of us all fighting it out in Blackpool, to the cut-off and Q School.

“I’ve seen the game completely change; the way it’s played, the way it’s run โ€“ I’ve basically seen it all.

“Also, I’m still playing at the highest level, so I’m quite aware of what’s going on out there and how difficult the game still is.

“It’s very easy to criticise; you see a player struggling out there and getting thumped 4-1 or 5-1, it’s easy just to say they’re not good enough, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think you have to be a bit more sympathetic to how tough it is.

“It’s OK to give your opinion and criticise the odd bit here or there. But I don’t think you should shame some players, which I think does go on sometimes, I think that’s just a bit too much.”

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