Four nominees remain in contention for the accolade of the greatest ever snooker practitioner to exhibit his skills in the North-West competitive circuit - Johnny Connors, Paul King, Liam McCann and Donal McVeigh.
The latest elimination process saw Shay Conway, Seamus McClarey and Noel McCann bow out of calculations. The trio are among the greats to grace the scene - that’s indisputable - but the ‘Brains Trust’ set up to deal with this invidious task spotted little chinks in their armour.
SEAMUS CONWAY - Dubbed ‘The Wizard of Oak, reference to a repertory of skilfully executed deep screw and power shots, the fast-potting Oak Grove southpaw was the most flair-filled player to excite the local snooker scene during the 1990s and early noughties.
His talent was rewarded with all the cherished individual and team prizes, highlighted by a brace of Senior Championship conquests (2007-01). He also won the Burke Trophy in 2001 and thus joined an elite group of cueists to bag both major titles in the same year. Moreover, he netted a Pairs Championship hat-trick (1992-00-02), while his team medal accreditation is illuminated by an unprecedented five-in-a-row in the Premier League (2000-04).
Come 2007, Shay had slipped under the spotlight radar, the aftermath of abandoning the practise table, and the ‘Wizard’ lived up to his nickname and performed a vanishing act from the scene.
The Verdict - Terrific on his preferred surface, be it at Oak Grove or George’s Bar (the venues where he won his senior and pairs titles), but Conway was never quite so good on away territory and the ‘Brains Trust’ found it too hard to ignore his somewhat fragmented ‘on the road’ form.
SEAMUS McCLAREY - The Coleraine cueman, whose formidable all-round game was solidified by ultra-consistency, contested no fewer than eight Senior Championship finals between 1979 and 1987, including a remarkable seven-in-a-row during the 1980s.
Four-time champion (1981-82-84-87), he augmented his senior success in 1982 with victory in the Burke Trophy inauguration. In the process he sealed a conspicuous place in the record books as the first to achieve North-West Championship Snooker’s most prestige ‘double’.
1988 marked the Bannsider’s swansong year on the local scene - and though finishing out of the frame in the championship circuit - he added further lustre to an eventful career by taking out membership of the exclusive ‘Centurion Club’, thanks to a break of 102 in a Premier League outing at Duffy’s SC.
The Verdict - A top-notch player, for sure, but his game of snakes-and-ladders in the senior final hardly befits the profile of the ‘Greatest’. Furthermore, McClarey’s brand of snooker, formidable as it was, lacked the bewitching quality of contemporaries like the artistic Donal McVeigh and the flamboyant Liam McCann.
NOEL McCANN - Four Senior Championship gold medals (1965-67-74-78), he won an unrivalled four pairs titles (1960-65-68-89), not to mention a pot overflowing with major team medals (including a record ten at League Division One level).
Though never renowned as a big break-builder, he fully exploited what he was good at, which was a mixture of potent potting and solid averages, underlined by a high level of consistency, sound match temperament and bags of determination. And he displayed his fiercely competitive qualities in characteristic fashion when claiming a famous come-from-behind victory in the 1978 Senior Championship final.
Providing the opposition was none other than Donal McVeigh, the then record five-time champion and fresh from retaining the Northern Ireland Championship crown. This was the second time in which the pair met in the decider, with McVeigh winning 3-0 in the initial encounter back in 1968, and it seemed pretty much a case of dŽjˆ vu when he opened up a 3-1 lead, but McCann buckled down like a hero to battle back and prevail 4-3.
To clinch the title by winning the last three frames is a laudable back-to-the-wall effort against any player, but to achieve it at the expense of an opponent of McVeigh’s sublime quality was indeed extra special.
The Verdict - Breaks wise, no solid substance (a prerequisite for any player with claims to the ultimate accolade), but nonetheless the Waterside cueman was armed with sufficient firepower to beat the best - even in the modern era - and fifth place in the pecking order of all-time greats is due recognition for an outstanding career.
Next week - Two more nominees bow out of contention.