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Ronnie O’Sullivan: The Rocket’s biggest snooker bust-ups

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O’Sullivan and Allen were involved in a heated verbal exchange in Milton Keynes (Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images)

A major televised snooker tournament. A controversial incident involving Ronnie O’Sullivan. The two go hand in hand.

Yes, whenever the Rocket takes to the table on the big stage, controversy is never normally far away.

Therefore, it almost felt like another day at the office when he became involved in a heated verbal exchange with Mark Allen during their Champion of Champions quarter-final on Thursday.

The altercation occurred in the final frame when trailing 5-3, O’Sullivan accused a flabbergasted Allen of moving in his eye line, with referee Marcel Eckardt forced to step in and prevent the frustrations of both players boiling over.

It certainly wasn’t the first bust-up involving the six-time World champion and is hugely unlikely to be the last.

Here, we look back at some of the most notable ones during his illustrious career.

Alain Robidoux (1996)

O’Sullivan’s ability to perform to the highest standard using both hands is just one of the reasons he is regarded as the most naturally gifted player ever to grace the modern game.

The Rocket first showcased this talent during his opening-round clash with Alain Robidoux at the 1996 World Championship – albeit rather unwisely.

Leading 8-2 and on course for a commanding 10-3 win, he elected to play several shots with his left hand – much to the delight of the Crucible crowd.

The Canadian was far from impressed, however, and refused to shake the 20-year-old’s hand at the match’s conclusion, later accusing him of being “disrespectful” and “showboating”.

A rebellious O’Sullivan responded that he could play better with his left hand than Robidoux could with his right.

Mike Ganley (1996) 

That wasn’t the only bust-up O’Sullivan was involved in during snooker’s blue-riband event that year.

Prior to his quarter-final showdown with John Higgins, the Rocket was involved in an argument with assistant tournament director Mike Ganley after he was asked to remove a guest from the press room because he did not meet the dress requirements.

Following the altercation, O’Sullivan would land a headbutt on Ganley – the man who would come to his rescue by lending him a pair of shoes 19 years later.

The 20-year-old was threatened with disqualification, but was eventually cleared to play in the tournament.

However, he was fined £20,000 for the incident while receiving a suspended two-year ban from the sport.

Ronnie O’Sullivan pictured in 1996 (Photo by Adam Davy/Empics Sport)

Stephen Hendry (2002)

Eyebrows were raised when defending champion O’Sullivan added needle to his 2002 World Championship semi-final clash with Stephen Hendry.

After beating Stephen Lee in the last eight, the Rocket launched an unprovoked verbal attack on the seven-time Crucible king.

Then reigning Crucible king, O’Sullivan claimed: “There is not a lot of respect there at all. The most satisfying thing for me would be to send him home to Scotland as quickly as possible for a nice summer off.”

Avoiding conflict but using those comments as motivation, Hendry produced an inspired display on the way to securing a 17-13 win that booked his place in the final.

Good friends with maverick boxer Prince Naseem Hamed at the time, O’Sullivan would later apologise to Hendry claiming he was put up to those antics by the former World champion’s entourage.

Hendry plays a shot as O’Sullivan watches on (Photo by Rui Vieira/PA Archive/PA Images)

Ali Carter (2018) 

Having contested the Crucible final in 2008 and 2012, O’Sullivan and Ali Carter prepared to do battle again in Sheffield in the 2018 second round.

Seeking his first victory over the Rocket in competitive play, Carter ramped up the tension ahead of the showdown, criticising his opponent’s attention-seeking media antics while suggesting he received favourable treatment by the snooker authorities.

That appeared to carry through to the match and with the Captain leading 11-8, the pair hit into each other’s shoulders as O’Sullivan returned to his seat.

A brief exchange ensued with the then five-time champion suggesting he was avenging an earlier barge from his opponent, who he labelled ‘Mr Angry’ before referee Paul Collier stepped in to calm the situation.

Undeterred, Carter went on to close out the match 13-9 and book his place in the quarter-finals.

Mark Selby (2020)

The contrasting styles of O’Sullivan and Mark Selby has always made for a fascinating rivalry, with the two players serving up thrilling matches over the years.

Although the Rocket described Selby as ‘the Torturer’ in his 2013 autobiography Running, a mutual respect appeared to have developed between them in more recent times.

That was until their epic Crucible semi-final back in August, where O’Sullivan recovered from 13-9 and 16-14 down to edge through in a decider on his way to a sixth title.

But it was the manner in which he achieved the victory that the Jester found far from funny, with the Rocket coming out firing in the final session with an all-out attacking approach and playing some audacious escape attempts from snookers.

Not normally one to be drawn into conflict, Selby later said of his opponent’s antics: “I just think it’s disrespectful to the game and also disrespectful to me in that particular match. 

“Whether he was trying to do mind games or not, I don’t know but Ronnie’s Ronnie and he does those things.”