Sean O’Sullivan admitted last weekend’s Q Tour event four was a torturous experience, after a first round loss forced him to wait on other results before eventually earning a return to the World Snooker Tour.
O’Sullivan secured a two-year tour card by virtue being the highest ranked player from this season’s Q Tour not to have already qualified for a professional place. He dropped off the tour back in 2019 and hasn’t appeared on the World Snooker Tour since then.
The 27-year-old lost his opening round tie with Patrick Whelan 3-2 and was left to sweat it out. Eventually it came down to a semi-final encounter between Simon Bedford and Robbie McGuigan. Defeat for Bedford would see O’Sullivan clinch the tour spot. However, Bedford had led 3-0, before a superb fightback saw McGuigan rally to win 4-3 on the final pink. The Northern Irishman went on to win the event.
O’Sullivan said: “When I lost my first match, I knew it was going to be a long weekend. To be honest, I just thought there were too many people chasing me to have a chance. I was sure it would be pretty long odds. However, a couple of defeats for people like Michael White and David Lilley early on gave me hope.
“The deciding frame between Robbie and Simon was pure torture. If I could have switched my phone off and done something else then I would have done, I couldn’t though. I had to keep an eye on it. When I found out it was all over it was more relief than anything else. It has been a hard journey trying to get back on over the last three years. I was with my mum and dad when it was confirmed and it was nice to see their reaction as they have done a lot for me. It was great to be able to see them enjoying it.”
It has been a long road back to professional status for O’Sullivan, who’s previous best ranking event finish was a run to the last 16 of the 2016 Scottish Open. Since suffering relegation from the circuit at the end of the 2018/19 campaign, he has struggled with mental health problems away from the table. Looking back, he says the priority should have been to get that sorted before focussing on snooker.
“I remember losing my last match at Q School in 2019. When I came off the table I was thinking whether I could keep doing this to myself. I took a couple of weeks off and decided that I couldn’t chuck all of my hard work away. I kept on playing in amateur events but I wasn’t right and I knew there was something wrong in my head. I could always play, but I wasn’t letting it happen. I was stubborn and I needed to address the issue. It was at that point that I spoke to Jason Ferguson and he put me in touch with Sporting Chance, who set up a few sessions and that really helped me out.
“It was nice to see Mark Selby being so honest about his troubles. It was good to see someone at the top of the sport being completely open. I was able to relate to that and it was great that he had the strength to talk and go to seek help himself. I’ve been doing that and am now in a far better place. It isn’t something that ever goes away completely though, you have to keep working on it.”
Part of O’Sullivan’s difficulties trace back to the loss of close friend and much loved junior snooker player Billy O’Connor, who passed away in 2015 after a long battle with cancer. In the aftermath he applied additional pressure on himself to perform in O’Connor’s memory. Having received help and advice, O’Sullivan still wishes to honour and play for his friend, but is now better positioned to put the importance of snooker into perspective.
“I didn’t grieve properly for Billy at the time and I had it in my head that I needed to play for him. That affected me more and I put more pressure on myself. It was something which came up in the sessions. I am still playing for Billy, but I have to play for myself as well. That is what he would want. I was just young and hadn’t been through anything like that before. Learning about things like that happening is about getting older. They do eventually make you a stronger person but it is very difficult at the time.
“Being able to look at things with a bit of perspective helps and realising snooker isn’t the be all and end all is important. Until about 18 months ago I couldn’t switch off. I would be down at the club all day then I would come home and think about what I had been practising. I was just getting burned out and mentally drained. It was all my own fault, I couldn’t bring myself to sort it out and thankfully I did eventually.”
Looking ahead to next season O’Sullivan can’t wait to get started and believes that his experiences over the last three years have set him up to deal better with competing against snooker’s elite.
“It sounds silly, but just being able to play on nice tables all of the time again is really exciting. I can’t whizz the white around in the way people like Judd can. I like to be able to hit the balls nicely an play in the great conditions you always get on the tour. Having been to a few venues on the amateur circuit, the whole experience was a wake up call. I was left wondering what I was doing there. It brings you back down to earth. If you really don’t want to be there then you have to put the work in. The main circuit is where you want to be as a snooker player. The plan is just to do better and see where I can go. I am more experienced, I’m not worried about playing certain players, I’m not worried about playing in front of big crowds. I am enjoying playing snooker and I am looking forward to it all so much.”
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