Phil Haigh ✍️
Shaun Murphy remembers the argument that ensued the very first time he played Stephen Maguire almost 30 years ago, ahead of their World Snooker Championship meeting this weekend.
The two men are now approaching veteran status in snooker, with Maguire at 41 and Murphy 39, having been battling it out on the baize since they were schoolboys.
The Scot was the man to avoid for the seeded players in the Crucible draw this year, having slipped down the rankings and having to come through qualifying.
The Magician has made no denial that he has been handed a tough draw, believing his old foe is the toughest he could have got, even more so than Ding Junhui who came through qualifying.
‘It’s the worst possible draw,’ Murphy told Metro.co.uk. ‘He’s the best player to come through the qualifiers, with no disrespect to anyone else.
‘A UK champion, absolute class player. Somebody I’ve known for the best part of 30 years since we were children. We know each other’s games inside and out and it’s a very tough start to the Championship.’
Asked of his earliest memory of Maguire, the Magician explained that their relationship did not get off on the best footing.
‘I think I remember playing him when I was maybe 11 or 12 in an under-15s tournament at Willie Thorne’s club,’ he said. ‘It was funny because the Maguire family wanted to shorten the length of the final because they had a long journey back to Glasgow having been in Leicester all day. My father wouldn’t allow it, which annoyed Stephen, and he beat me 3-0!
‘He was the Scottish number one and I was probably the English number one at that age, so we’ve been battering each other for the bones of 30 years.’
Murphy added while speaking to Eurosport: ‘We grew up competing against each other week in week out and the same’s happened at pros.
‘I think we’ve had similar careers, yes I’ve won here and at the Masters, but otherwise it’s been pretty similar.’
The pair have been thought to have something of a stand-offish relationship since Maguire was docked a frame for forgetting his chalk against Murphy at the 2004 Grand Prix.
The Englishman believes that is all in the distant past now, though, saying: ‘Certainly from my point of view our relationship’s good. I’ve got a very deep respect for him as a bloke and as a snooker player. From my point of view there’s no axe to grind at all.’
Certainly Murphy has no problem with facing the fiery Scot, enjoying his style of play and that Maguire plays the game something on the edge of his temper.
‘I do like playing him because, I’m not sure what this means, but he plays the game properly,’ said Murphy. ‘Plays all the right shots, never bottles out of playing a killer shot, incredible bottle. On his day he’s as good in any department as anyone else.
‘I think there’s a case to be made that he fires himself up. That’s where the On Fire Maguire nickname comes from. If you get him wound up he plays to a very high level, but he has had a tendency over the years to boil over.
‘There’s a fine line between being effective and being anti a good performance and I suppose I hope it’s the latter.’
Maguire and Murphy begin their two-session match at 7pm on Saturday 16 April.
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