'I was made for this stage' Classy Cahill proves snooker has bright future beyond O’Sullivan
James Cahill tells Eurosport's Desmond Kane why he belongs on snooker's biggest stage after his incredible 10-8 win over Ronnie O'Sullivan in the first round of the World Championship, the Crucible's greatest upset.
The well has run dry for Ronnie O’Sullivan in Sheffield. There is unlikely to be another world title for snooker’s main protagonist in these parts. Not impossible, but highly unlikely. Another two? There is more chance of Sheffield Wednesday lifting the Premier League.
That may sound melodramatic, but it is failing to appreciate the reality of a changing world in professional sport. Even for blokes brandishing the staying power, quality and technique of O’Sullivan, time, tide and snooker tables wait for no man.
The two world titles that O’Sullivan needs to equal Stephen Hendry’s record haul of seven in the modern era probably disappeared down the same hole that 750-1 long shot James Cahill, a smiling, chirpy young chap from Blackpool, slotted the pink in to record the biggest upset in the history of this event.
O’Sullivan lifted the last of his five world titles in 2013. He will be 44 if he plays at this venue next year. Ray Reardon remains the oldest champion at 45 years, 203 days, but that was 41 years ago. The modern demands of the Crucible and O’Sullivan’s game are no longer natural bedfellows.
James Cahill and Ronnie O'Sullivan shake hands.Eurosport
The GOAT debate will remain an active issue for as long as Stephen Hendry holds his seven. Many will argue O’Sullivan is already the greatest, but it is a live debate: the argument can and will be made that he did not equal Hendry’s total between 1990-1999. In his private moments, it will be a source of regret.
"You have to look at it in a certain way," he said after his crushing exit. "Some people are driven by records, and some are not. If they are driven by records, they will want to go away and work at it. Some people are not. Some people will take it event by event, and have more short-term goals."
It is ironic that the man brandishing the murder weapon in the theatre was the unheralded Cahill, the former nephew in law of Hendry, who has oddly refused to help the development of the man who clubbed O'Sullivan's dream to death.
The king is dead, long live the king. Cahill’s 10-8 win over O’Sullivan did not mark the changing of the guard in snooker, but that day is surely drawing closer. It was both seismic and spectacular as the amateur punished the tournament favourite’s errors in a quite remarkable match that will be remembered long after the 43rd staging of this tournament concludes.
It seemed like a miracle two days after Easter Sunday as O'Sullivan fell to the most momentous defeat here since defending champion Steve Davis was walloped 10-1 by Tony Knowles in 1982.
As the colour seemed to visibly drain from O’Sullivan, Cahill’s cheeks got redder and redder. He made breaks of 71, 70, 54, 84, 62 and 53 in the match, and he steeled himself superbly in the Steel City. O’Sullivan was poor while 23-year-old Cahill was pristine. Somewhere his iconic late coach Frank Callan, a man who worked wonders for Hendry and Davis, was smiling down on him.
Cahill had told me on Saturday that he was built to play snooker, and he certainly made good on his promise over two taut days on the sport’s grandest stage. As he points out, he is a qualifier in name only. The way he views it, it is an upset in name only.
The naysayers who claim snooker will struggle in future years without O’Sullivan fail to appreciate the game’s rich history. Like tennis will go on without Roger Federer, snooker is about much more than one man. In figures like Cahill, the green baize has a bright future.
Cahill will return to the professional tour next season two years after losing his card. He carries himself well on and off the table. He is an impressive talker with a game to match. He has a professional mindset for the demands of the digital age. Players such as him are good for the business of snooker.
He reached the professional tour after carrying off the European Under-21 Championship in 2013, but was relieved of his tour card two years ago after wins became as rare as using the half-butt.
He is quite rightly alive to the possibilities. “I think I’ve got a good temperament for that sort of arena,” Cahill told Eurosport. “I’ve proved that to myself. It’s given me a lot of pressure to perform.
"I can take a lot of confidence from this. I’ve always felt that I belong on a big stage. When I was losing to guys in back rooms with no crowd, I always felt it would be different if I could get myself up there. A lot of the players haven’t got the temperament to go out there and perform. It’s not easy to perform. You’ve either got it or you haven’t. "
“If you’ve not got that, you can’t be a top player.”
Hair today, gone tomorrow. O’Sullivan reminded you a bit of Robert De Niro’s troubled Travis Bickle character in Taxi Driver on Tuesday morning after whipping off his barnet.
He emerged trailing 5-4 on Tuesday morning sporting a sort of buzz cut that is usually reserved for conscription after opting for a close shave to wipe out a black Monday.
But he hardly looked a picture of health as Cahill sucked the lifeblood out of his game. It would be wrong to suggest there was any good fortune attached to this win especially with O’Sullivan blowing up needing only pink and black to lead 9-8.
In the end, he was a spent force having started the match carelessly and wandering off downhill despite his usual barrage of breaks that included 97 in the 10th frame and 104 in the 14th. It was not bad health that cost him this match, but bad shot selection.
James Cahill knocked Ronnie O’Sullivan out of the first round of the World Snooker Championships in SheffieldPA Sport
“I think showed a lot character,” said Cahill. “I always have an expectation on myself to perform as a player. I think every sportsman has got that.
“There was a lot of pressure on Ronnie. He might not have been feeling physically good, but he doesn’t want to come here to get beat by me I presume.
"I feared I might end up as a spectator when Ronnie cleared up a few times. I did a good couple of pressure clearances to win on the colours. That just kept me in the match."
“I know he hasn’t played at his best, but Ronnie at his best means you probably don’t get a shot.
“I had played him three times before, but to beat my idol at the Crucible just makes it extra special really.”
Cahill’s own mum Maria has inspired his career. She had her own aspirations of qualifying as player for the Crucible in the 1980s and 1990s but owns a snooker club in Preston where Cahill forged his brush strokes.
“My mum was a good stick back in the day," said Cahill. "She doesn’t play any more, she just plays through me. She leaves me to it to do the right things, and puts me on the right path.
“It is nice she understands the game. To have all my family and friends there, its means everything to me.
“It is nice to have the support and do it for them.”
Cahill has enjoyed wins in the UK Championship over Ding Junhui in 2014 and Mark Selby this season, but assassinating O'Sullivan on a world snooker table is as it good at it gets. Ahead of a last-16 meeting with Stephen Maguire, his mind is on greater riches.
“I like Sheffield, but now I love it even more. It’s the biggest win of my career, but I learned after beating Ding a few years ago that I have to get my mind back on the next match. I feel like I've matured as a person and a player."
And a winner. Having ousted O'Sullivan in Sheffield, Cahill has grand designs on the future. These are the days of his life.
Desmond Kane at the Crucible Theatre
First-round results & latest scores (best of 19 frames)
- Mark Williams (Wal) 10-7 Martin Gould (Eng)
- David Gilbert (Eng) 10-7 Joe Perry (Eng)
- Barry Hawkins (Eng) v Li Hang (Chn)
- Kyren Wilson (Eng) v Scott Donaldson (Sco)
- John Higgins (Sco) 10-7 Mark Davis (Eng)
- Stuart Bingham (Eng) 10-9 Graeme Dott (Sco)
- Shaun Murphy (Eng) 10-0 Luo Honghao (Chn)
- Neil Robertson (Aus) 10-1 Michael Georgiou (Cyp)
- Mark Selby (Eng) 10-7 Zhao Xintong (Chn)
- Luca Brecel (Bel) 9-10 Gary Wilson (Eng)
- Jack Lisowski (Eng) v Ali Carter (Eng)
- Mark Allen (NI) 2-7 Zhou Yeulong (Chn)
- Judd Trump (Eng) 3-6 Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (Tha)
- Ding Junhui (Chn) 10-7 Anthony McGill (Sco)
- Stephen Maguire (Sco) 10-9 Tian Pengfei (Chn)
- Ronnie O'Sullivan (Eng) 8-10 James Cahill (Eng)