Q College Quartet wins again main tour places

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Michael Judge regained a place on the World Snooker Tour after a ten-year absence by beating Kuldesh Johal 4-0 in the final round of the second Q School event.

Judge, Alfie Burden, Barry Pinches and Craig Steadman all secured tour tickets for the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons.

The Irishman Judge was a familiar face on the racetrack for almost two decades from 1992 to 2011, notably reaching the semifinals of the Grand Prix in 2004 and the round of 16 at the Crucible in 2001 and spending several seasons in the top 32.In 2019, he enjoyed one Another moment in the spotlight when he won the UK Seniors Championship and defeated Jimmy White in the final.

He wasn't at his best against Johal, but breaks of 45 and 43 gave him a comfortable win. “It feels great,” said the 45-year-old Dubliner. “After falling off the tour ten years ago, I put the queue aside and put my life in order. I did a bit of work at the Q Club in Wicklow. I was only playing in the amateur scene for fun and after five or six years I decided to try again. Then my wife had a baby boy, so I put snooker on hold for a couple of years.

“During the lockdown, I thought I wouldn't mind trying it and a friend said he would support me. I started practicing hard and things have leveled off. Here I am, back on tour for more torture! I always felt like I was good enough to get back on track if I tried it right. We'll find out soon if I can keep up. I'm just curious what it will bring me.

“I was really inspired to win the British Seniors Final against one of the all time greats at Jimmy White in a crowded arena. That gave me the confidence that I can do it on any stage. I know I can hit anyone on my day if I'm hot. The tour will suit me because there are so many tournaments that you don't have to practice as much. "

Alfie Last got his tour card back after a much shorter break of 11 months. The 44-year-old Londoner recovered from losing the first frame, defeating Michael Collumb 4-1 with a top break of 70.

The former amateur world champion Burden has been a professional for 24 seasons and has reached the quarter-finals in four ranking events. After relegating in 2020, he missed a return via Q School and then took a break from snooker. He admitted in that recent interview that he had missed the thrill of competition and camaraderie on track and decided to try the qualifying minefield one more time, successfully this time.

“It's an amazing feeling,” said Burden. “I only had three weeks of preparation, so I wasn't expecting much. I didn't know how to handle the pressure. In this school my experience goes very far. I enjoyed being out there again. I didn't play great, but I dug into it.

“During the pandemic, I got really bored and missed the game, so I decided it wouldn't hurt to try Q School again and roll the dice. I'm looking forward to two more years on the tour. You thought the Hell-Raiser was gone, but he's back! I'm not afraid of anyone, I just enjoy it.

“I was always competitive, I never give up. I always believed in my ability. I have probably achieved too little, but it is my own fault for not living properly. Hopefully my son can look at me and think, "The old man doesn't give in, he's coming back for more." If he incorporates that into his career (footballer's son Lene has just signed with Bristol Rovers), when the times are tough, then that will set a good example for him. I'll drive many miles to Bristol to see him play.

"I want to thank my trainer, Alan Bell, the Whetstone Snooker Club and everyone there for their support, and finally my daughter Bow who is like an angel on my shoulder. I am so happy to be her father."

Craig Steadman survived some nervous moments to beat Hammad Miah 4-3. From 3-0 up, Farnworth's Steadman lost the next three frames and was then 34-0 behind in the playoff. But breaks of 48 and 28 earned him the win and a place on the track he previously held from 2012 to 2020.

“I should have won 4-1, then everything went wrong,” admitted the 38-year-old Steadman, who reached the semi-finals of the Shoot Out as an amateur last season. “I was very nervous at 3-1, but in the last frame I felt pretty calm. I had an incredible chance in the playoff, so I feel for Hammad because he held out well after 3-0. The relief is huge, I am stunned. There is a lot at stake, nobody wants to come back tomorrow and start all over again.

“It was nice to run at the Shoot Out and that motivated me to start playing again. I trained really hard for this, but as soon as I got here I felt like I hadn't played a real game in ten years. It felt really tough.

“My personal life has been fantastic last year as my wife had a baby and I spent four or five months renovating the house. So that stopped me from playing snooker. But then I started to miss it, so I'm glad I can play again now. "

Barry Pinches won a dramatic decision-making framework to beat Sanderson Lam 4-3. After trailing 2-0, Pinches took three frames in a row with a top break of 100 before Lam won the sixth 3-3. Both players had chances in the playoff and it all came down to the colors. Lam pocketed the final red, brown, and yellow but then missed the green, and Pinches won green, brown, blue, and pink to win 63-54.

The 50-year-old from Norwich turned pro for the first time in 1989 and was once ranked 18th in the world. He is the second player aged 50 or older to attend Q School this month, joining Peter Lines, who qualified through the first event.

"I've played big matches at the Crucible and all major venues and the pressure just doesn't get any bigger," said Pinches. “If the next two years depend on a shot, it's that hard. He missed an unpleasant green. My adrenaline was pumping, but I managed to take the last few balls. I tried to pump my fist where Sanderson couldn't see me because I was excited. It's pure relief.

“I've always believed that if you like to play and can manage financially, you should keep going. All of the guys who got through today are all older players. Snooker is not an easy game to become good at! There are so many good, hardened professionals aged 35, 40 or even 50. It's so difficult for the younger players to get through Q School.

"I would like to go back to the standard I was at in the early 2000s when I pushed for a top 16 spot at that level because I haven't done myself justice in the past two years."

Event three starts in Sheffield on Tuesday and runs through Sunday.

Article by WST.

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