Stan Cauley, acknowledged as the most talented student ever to graduate from the St. Patrick’s Hall (Waterside) once-renowned billiards academy, won a host of admirers, courtesy of his red ball expertise (sequence of in-offs), attractive stance and cue-ball delivery.
A prolific centurion on the practise table, compiling the Spencer Road hall’s record break (187 in 1946), he was the proud owner of a suitably engraved watch presented by the committee in recognition of his compilation.
Alas, as frustrating careers go in North-West Championship Billiards, the one endured by the Waterside player holds the patent. A sorry tale of 10 defeats from 11 finals, including four-time ‘best man but never the groom’ in the game’s most important three-ball event - Senior Championship - and thus earned the unwanted distinction as runner-up most often without winning the title, as well as the only three-in-a-row beaten finalist.
Cauley’s Championship ‘seconditis’ woes began with back-to-back defeats in the junior grade (1940-41). And though he won the junior title at the third bite of the cherry in 1942, he was back again in the runner-up enclosure in the 1944 intermediate grade.
The came a trio of second-best spots of more consequential dimension, his ambitions of bagging NW billiards’ ultimate prize dashed in three successive Senior Championship finals, started in 1945 when he faced a tough baptism in his first appearances on the big stage.
Providing the opposition was Pat Kane, the much-revered Strabane three-ball technician whose reputation rivalled that of the great Jim McAllister during the 1940s. Played over two legs (home-and-away), Cauley edged the first leg at the Waterside (400-382), but Kane upped the pace in the return session at Strabane and, assisted by a break of 112 (then a record for the final), ran out a decisive winner (800-553).
Terrific at home, not so tasty on his travels, Cauley usually needed table advantage to deliver peak form, a perfect illustration being his encounter with Jim McAllister in the 1946 final. When the St. Columb’s Hall ace took the first leg at the ‘Minor’ by a massive margin (500-166), there appeared little element left for the return leg at the Spencer Road venue. The referee could have been forgiven for stepping in and stopping the contest at that point!
But the Waterside man, playing on his preferred surface, made an epic comeback, dominating exchanges to such an extent that the margin of defeat was a mere 37 points (1000-963). I’m not sure everyone thinks failure can be heroic. But it can. Cauley proved it the 1946 final.
The 1947 final, played over two nightly sessions at St. Columb’s Hall, promised to be a case of ‘third time lucky’ for the St. Pat’s player who, after trading blows with ‘heavyweight’ opposition, faced a far less exacting task against Willie Stevenson (PWMI). As it was, it proved another drowning your sorrows party for the Waterside billiards fraternity, as the Institute man emerged victorious (1000-920).
Six years elapsed until Cauley’s name next appeared in the list of Senior Championship contenders. An early exit in 1953 was followed by a similar fate in 1954, before paying his fourth visit to ‘Wembley’ in the 1955 renewal, his opponent being John McDaid (Sion Mills). Played over two nightly sessions at AOH Club, the Tyrone cueist was not hard pushed to out-point a lack-lustre Cauley (800-646), thus the Championship’s perennial ‘nearly man’ left his supporters feeling deflated once again.
He subsequently put his competitive cue on the rack and thereon was heavily involved in the showband business. An accomplished pianist, he was the leader of the Stan Cauley Orchestra, an outfit of considerable renown during the 1960s.
As if seven defeats from eight finals wasn’t bad enough, Cauley’s ‘seconditis’ misery was compounded following his return to the fray via the Veterans Championship in the 1980s, enduring the bitter taste of defeat in all three visits to the ultimate stage. Runner-up in 1981 and 1983, an overdose of salt was rubbed in the wounds when he was pipped 200-198 by Frank McCarroll in 1985 (his swansong year on the championship circuit).
The legendary Jim McAllister believed that ‘Big Stan’ was up there with the best of them in terms of ability. High praise indeed from someone of the ten-time senior champion’s experience. Okay, Cauley failed to prove it on the big stage, but as a prime contender for the title ‘the best player never to be champion’, there are worse things for a cueist to have chiselled on his CV.
And finally, as a matter of interest, Stan Cauley’s lone title triumph was secured at the expense of compatriot Cahir Fitzpatrick in the 1942 junior final. 43 years elapsed before the pair renewed rivalry, with ‘Fitzie’ coming out on top this time around. That’s what you call belated revenge!