JOHNNY CONNORS holds the bragging rights as Letterkenny’s only player to win North-West snooker’s ultimate prize - Senior Individual Championship - a surprise statistic given the wealth of top-class talent who have graduated from the CYMS and NWSC renowned snooker academies over the past 20 years or so.
The most gifted player to emerge on the scene following the turn of the millennium, Connors bagged the ‘big pot’ for the fifth time in this year’s event. And while he has still a bit to go to equal, let alone surpass, Paul King’s eye-popping nine-title tally, the multi-talented Letterkenny player is still only 25 years old and must be regarded as a serious threat to King’s numerical supremacy.
CONNORS CV - A prodigy of the North West SC, his debut-season arrived in the 1999/00 Premier League campaign. And, despite being thrown in at the deep end, he proved a strong swimmer by competing with eye-catching distinction against the top-shots.
He etched out a significant piece of Donegal snooker history in 2001 when selected for the Republic of Ireland under-16 team against Wales, the first ever cueist from the county to attain international recognition.
Hailed as the NW snooker’s most exciting teenage potter since Jason Prince, Terry Murphy and Paul King came to prominence in the 1980s, the term ‘rising star’ was applied by the talent-spotters and observations proved spot-on.
Connors went from budding star to true champion when potting his way to pre-eminence in the 2002 Senior Championship. He thus achieved the double accreditation as the youngest title custodian (15) and the only Donegal combatant to win NW snooker’s supreme individual title.
He climaxed his distinctive conquest by defeating defending champion Seamus Conway 4-1 at Oak Grove, a turn-up for the books as Conway entered the fray as the vastly more experienced player, not to mention the additional benefit of table advantage, so everything looked primed for the ‘Wizard of Oak’ to retain the title.
However, in a final deemed to have come too soon for a young player still in the formative years of his snooker education, the ‘razzamatazz’ of the big occasion proved no ordeal for the precocious Letterkenny hotshot who, without a hint of good fortune, emerged an authoritative winner, compiling several noteworthy breaks (topped by 76 and 50).
Pete Murphy’s sensational-style conquest headlined the 2003 Senior Championship. The only junior-graded contender to bag NW snooker’s ‘biggest pot, the AOH player’s giant-killing heroics included a stunning 3-0 dethronement of Connors in the quarter-finals.
But the Letterkenny whizz kid was back again at ‘Wembley’ in 2004, scoring a string of sizeable sequences in the process (highlighted by 99), his opponent in the final being Eglinton’s Paul King, bidding to wear the crown for a remarkable tenth time.
Suffice to say, George’s Bar was packed to the capacity in anticipation of a titanic tussle but, instead, a one-sided contest was delivered: a sharp-as-a-tack Connors dominating exchanges en route to a comprehensive 4-0 victory.
NW snooker’s big story of 2005 was the ‘Triple Crown’ feat of Strabane’s Glenn Roulston, who emulated Paul King as only the second player to win the Senior Championship, Burke Trophy and Pairs Championship in the same year.
While Connors’ bid to retain the senior title evaporated in the last eight, he nonetheless stamped his mark on the event, courtesy of breaks of 107 and 101. He was then, and remains the only player to achieve a brace of centuries in a Senior Championship campaign.
‘Scratch’ competitors defying ‘top weight’ in major snooker open handicaps are a rarity, but Connors bucked the trend in the 2005 Sean Dolan’s GAC Open Snooker Handicap. What’s more, the NWSC potter pocketed the top prize in impressive style when, apart from winning all his outings without breaking much sweat, he illuminated the final with a century break of 102.
Connors’ 4-2 win over Shantallow’s Peter Doherty in the 2006 final at Du Pont SC completed a Senior Championship hat-trick, but he subsequently encountered a serious form problem. And in the aftermath of a rather unceremonious dethronement against junior-graded opposition in the first-round of the 2007 Championship, he embarked on a sabbatical from the game.
After keeping his sublime talent under lock and key for over two years, the Letterkenny ace, who had now switched his allegiance from NWSC to CYMS, returned to the fray in revitalised fashion and was propelled back into the headlines in 2010 when hitting the Senior Championship jackpot for the fourth time, having beat the defending champion Pascal McKenna 4-3 in the final at Du Pont SC.
Surprisingly enough, no player has successfully defended the title since the dawn of the new millennium, including Connors, whose early exit in the 2011 renewal marked his fourth abortive attempt to retain the crown.
Connors’ nap hand of Senior Championship conquests was secured in this year’s event when, in a benchmark all-Letterkenny final, he came from behind to defeat Sean McVeigh (NWSC) 4-3 in a high-quality contest.
McVeigh, the new kid on the championship block, seemed on course to spoil his compatriot’s unbeaten certificate (won all four previous appearances at the ultimate stage). The NWSC potter led 3-1, but multiple champions need character, as well as talent, and the CYMS cueman showed his mettle by reeling off the remaining three frames without undue difficulty.
Incidentally, 48 hours after locking horns in the North-West’s showpiece fixture, the pair renewed rivalry in the Donegal Senior Championship decider, with Connors again emerging victorious (5-2).
NW HIGHLIGHTS - Championship - Five-time Senior Champion (2002-04-06-10-12); Twice Pairs Champion, his co-pilots being Gerry McKeever (2003) and Adrian McFadden (2012); Youths Under-21 Champion (2003).
Major Medals - Premier League (2011), League Division One (2012), Senior Cup (2012) and Pairs Cup (2003).
Record Breaker - Century breaks in NW competitive snooker are headline-hitting material, a psychological barrier only outstanding local players can defy, and Connors has demonstrated his break-building expertise by hitting the jackpot an unrivalled four times (116, 115, 107 and 102).