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'Bring on the Rocket' - Ken Doherty ready to take on snooker's best at the Crucible again

The Dubliner qualified for the World Snooker Championships.

44-YEAR-OLD Ken Doherty will be the oldest player in the draw for this year’s Dafabet World Championship at the Crucible.

The Dubliner, who failed to qualify for snooker’s most prestigious event last year, yesterday defeated Thailand’s Dechawat Poomjaeng 10-5 and is set to make his 19th appearance at the Crucible.

The world no 28, who won the World Championship in 1997, was 4-2 down at one point but turned it around and won seven frames in a row.

“There’s so much pressure in that match,” Doherty told TheScore.ie today. “It’s one of the toughest matches you play in your career. At the qualifiers, there’s not that big a crowd and anything can happen. Mark Williams and Graeme Dott were at the tables beside me and I was casting an eye on how much of a battle they had on their hands. It just shows you how tough that final match is, when you have two former world champions and a two-time finalist, Matt Stevens, not making the draw.

Ken Doherty 5/5/1997 Doherty after his win in 1997. Source: © INPHOAllsport

“It’s great to get through, I’m delighted. After missing out last year, losing 10-9, I feel like a kid again. I’m the oldest man at the tournament, believe it or not, but mentally I’m going to feel like a teenager in front of the crowd. It’s my favourite tournament — it’s everybody’s.

“It’s snooker’s Wembley and this is why you play the game. You want to play in the Crucible and if you don’t, you feel like you’ve had a disappointing season. It’s good to be back. It’s great to have my name in the draw, so anything’s possible now.”

In his last appearance at the tournament, in 2012, Doherty was defeated 10-4 by Australian Neil Robertson in the first round. The number six seed, Robertson, went on to make the quarter-final and suffered a narrow loss to the eventual champion, Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Snooker - Betfred.com World Snooker Championships - Day Thirteen - The Crucible Theatre BBC Sport presenter Hazel Irvine (right) does a live piece to camera with Ken Doherty last year. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Doherty, though, has no qualms about who he faces and is just taking one game at a time — with memories of 1997 still inspiring him to this day.

“I’ve no real targets. I don’t care who I get in the draw — bring on the Rocket [Ronnie O'Sullivan]! I don’t think anybody will want to play me, because I’ve got a wealth of experience playing here. I’ve been here, gone the distance and come out the other side smiling. I think that will stand to me. I’m not holding any prospects; I’m just going to go out and play as hard as I can and see where it leads me. I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m a 300/1 outsider with the bookies and it’s probably reflective of the way I’ve been playing lately!

“Nobody expects me to do anything, but I’ve already had my hands on this trophy and I’m going to try as hard as I did in 1997. I relive it every day: there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about beating Stephen Hendry, lifting that cup, and all the great memories of bringing the cup home. It was a great time and I still have a great time thinking about it.”

Snooker - Betfred.com World Snooker Championships - Day One - The Crucible Theatre Ken Doherty with the trophy after winning in 1997. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Having failed to qualify for any of snooker’s Triple Crown events last season, Doherty has been revitalised by his return to the Crucible. The oldest winner of the World Championship was 45-year-old Welshman Ray Reardon in 1978. Does Doherty dare to dream?

“When I first played here in 1992, I never thought I’d be coming back as the oldest player in the tournament. It’s definitely a new milestone for me. I used to dislike Steve Davis, because he used to beat my hero, Alex Higgins, all the time. Now, he’s my hero because he was 52 when he got to the quarter-finals in 2010!

“If you think about your age too much, then it becomes a problem. You just go out and play. It’s only a 12 x 6 table with 21 balls and one white. I’m just going to play it like I would a normal game. Stranger things have happened.”

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Ciaran Kelly

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