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30 May 2018

Not Just a Young Man's Game

Samuel Hinton (@samhinton91)

Just a few weeks ago, Mark Williams sensationally became the World Champion at the age of 43, becoming the oldest winner since Ray Reardon back in 1978. In the final he beat 42 year old John Higgins, who was also runner-up last year. Ronnie O'Sullivan, also aged 42 has won five ranking events this season, Higgins two.

The age-related issue really has become a big topic of debate within snooker, as in recent times many players such as Stuart Bingham, Joe Perry and Mark Davis have arguably discovered the best form of their careers well into their late 30s and early 40s. This bucked a trend, and went against the commonly believed notion that snooker players are at their best in their 20s.

This must surely now make the snooker fraternity consider that perhaps age isn't such a factor in being successful in snooker, not a massively physical sport. Now the famed class of 92 (O'Sullivan, Higgins and Williams) are proving that there is no reason winning ways can't continue into the 40s, despite being a bit greyer, and a bit balder. Who knows, perhaps even into their late 40s? Time will tell.

I feel it is worth considering how and when age concerns in snooker became the perceived wisdom. In the late 80s Ray Reardon was quoted as saying 'it's a young man's game now'. About him the changing face of snooker was clear to see. This was when of course Steve Davis ruled supreme, a young man in his 20s, at the height of his powers.

However, it is worth noting that some players from that era weren't even professional until their late 20s or even early 30s (Joe Johnson was 27, Terry Griffiths was 31), but they still had long successful careers. The average age would have been 30s, but with emerging players like Jimmy White and John Parrott in their early 20s joining the youthful Davis.

Then of course along came Stephen Hendry, World Champion in 1990 at the age of 22 - he done the unthinkable knocking Davis from his perch as World number 1. Hendry was also to achieve the vast majority of his success in his 20s - his 7th and final World title coming at the age of 30.

Towards the end of Hendry's major title days there was an influx of youthful talent sharing titles, the class of 92 joined by players such as Paul Hunter, Stephen Lee and Matthew Stevens.The astonishing careers of Davis and Hendry, perhaps set a precedent, as they had relatively little success titles wise in their 30s and even less so in their 40s (although Davis won a Masters at the age of 39 and was top 16 at the age of 50). In fact Hendry retired at 43.

But is there any real reason for this to be the case? Perhaps Davis and Hendry burnt themselves out by setting such high goals early in their careers? The fact they had achieved everything in the game possibly left little in terms of desire, plus the game has become increasingly more competitive with more strength in depth.

The mental strength and desire to win seems to fade as a player gets older, but as we keep seeing the game is still there with the class of 92 - finding fresh inspiration seems key. As long as a player is in shape physically - the rest, it seems, is mental. The other argument is that there simply isn't as many good 'young players' coming through. At 28 Judd Trump is still considered a relative youngster now - remember how old Davis and Hendry were when they won their last world titles?

Reardon was the last player aged 50 to appear in a World Final in 1982. Three years earlier Fred Davis made a century at the Crucible aged 65!

Will we see a player in their 50s in a World Final, or a player in their 60s knocking in tons at the Crucible? It seems highly unlikely, but you never know. One thing is for sure a snooker players career needn't be a short one...

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