The kids are far from over the hill. At the outset of August, Ronnie O'Sullivan – firmly on his way to a sixth world title and spouting some magnificent trademark drivel behind closed doors at the Crucible Theatre – embarked upon an astonishingly amusing, derisory and unnecessary broadside at the game's future generation by claiming young players were so bad he would need "to lose an arm and leg to fall outside of the top 50."
After suffering a 5-4 defeat to 18-year-old Irish rookie Aaron Hill in his first competitive match of the campaign at the European Masters in Milton Keynes, it might be a good shout to keep hold of his arm and leg. Just in case.
This defeat won't cost the world champion an arm and a leg, but it is a timely reminder that what goes up, must come down. Especially in professional sport where time, tide and form wait for no man. Not even the greatest cue man of all time.
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This is all a tad more embarrassing then enduring for O'Sullivan, but be careful who you insult because karma has a funny habit of coming back to bite you. On this occasion, dressed in a bow tie and waistcoat and armed only with a snooker cue and a head full of ambition.
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O'Sullivan had appeared likely to progress as breaks of 64, 58 and 102 carried him 4-3 clear only for world number 115 Hill to largely dominate the closing two frames with a 78 – his third half century of the contest – enough to see him through to the last 32 and a match with Matthew Stevens, a figure who had appeared in one of his two world finals two years before Hill was born.
O'Sullivan came out with his comments before he faced Mark Williams in the quarter-finals at the Crucible. Yet both men – members of the class of '92 with 28 years and nine world titles between them – discovered on Thursday that the power of youth can be difficult to quell.
“On the standard of play, I’m not surprised we are still playing like this. If you look at the younger players coming through they aren’t that good really," said O'Sullivan last month. “Most of them, they would probably do well as half decent amateurs, but not even that. They are so bad.
“A lot of them, you have got to lose an arm and leg to fall outside of the top 50. That’s why we are still hovering around. How poor it is down that end. It is that bad.”
Hill – the European Under-21 champion from the rebel county of Cork taking baby steps on the baize – decided the best form of rebellion was toppling O'Sullivan, who will quickly put this result behind him with the rest of the year set to be played behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“That comment was in the back of my head a small bit, but I didn’t worry about it," said Hill. "I just said to myself when he said it, that one day I am going to show him what I can do. I think today was the day.
“I’m speechless at the moment. I didn’t just go out there and be happy to be there. I still wanted to win the match. If I’d lost after being 3-1 up, I’d have been disappointed.
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"I am just so pleased with that victory. Everyone back home, my family and my friends must be buzzing. I just looked at my phone and I think it is going to take until Christmas to reply to everyone.”
O'Sullivan felt he paid the price for failing to convert his opportunities and said: "Look, I had my chances and if you don’t take them then this can happen. Things didn’t go my way in the decider, there were a couple of flukes and he held himself together pretty well."
Williams had berated O'Sullian for his "disrespectful" comments but was also sent tumbling out of the tournament as he suffered a 5-4 defeat to world number 112 Peter Devlin, a 24-year-old from London who is a comedy rapper on You Tube after qualifying for the professional tour last month.
Devlin compiled 71, 52, 57 before finishing with a 102 after Williams had restored parity at 4-4. He faces Joe O'Connor for a last-16 spot.
“What a time to make a century, in a deciding frame, against someone like that, on a TV table. It is unbelievable," said Devlin, whose carefree demeanour suggests that when you have nothing to lose, winning becomes a much more achievable prospect.
The kids are doing it for themselves.
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