From IPA in Gibraltar to EBA in Bridlington - a month of pool

The EBA European Championship was looming closer as a dreary February led into March. I have been getting regular practice, although as usual, never as much as I would like, and I have been taking regular exercise - well, walking the dog once a day. But it was the visit to Gibraltar last weekend by the IPA Professional World Series that made the best warm up to a tournament I have ever experienced.

Event poster signed by the visiting players, courtesy of Paul Heard
Cue sports enthusiast and a good pool buddy, Paul Heard, of Premier Cue Sports in Gibraltar, had been negotiating with the IPA since the middle of last year to bring the World Series to Gibraltar. The event created included the professional Gibraltar Final, the Gibraltar Open, a team competition between Team IPA and Gibraltar Select and a light-hearted Last Man Standing competition which all took place during Easter weekend in what was a festival of pool as well as a tremendous success.
Paul Heard at the table, courtesy of OMG Photophiliac
It was precisely the type of high-profile international event Gibraltar needed to really bring an explosive boost to the game. The visiting professionals showcased their extraordinary talent on the one hand, but by becoming involved in the local tournament, they gave local players a chance they perhaps would not otherwise have had to play pool at such a high standard. It is perhaps one of the universal truths of any sport that a player can only improve and tap into his full potential if he is stretched by the demands of playing against highly-skilled opponents. Not only was this available to Gibraltar pool players this weekend, individuals and the national squad alike, but the Gibraltar Pool Association arranged for one of the professional players, coach Jimmy "The Showman" Carney, to deliver coaching sessions to local players prior to the tournament.
Jimmy Carney imparting pool wisdom to Gib's No 1 player, Dave Goodwin, courtesy of Tommy Finlayson Photography
What a tremendous opportunity that was. I did not encounter anything other than praise and appreciation for Jimmy Carney's work with the players - we all learnt something from him. For some it was a point of technique, for others it was about attitude, or stance or our nerves and our approach to the game. It all helped. For me, Jimmy pointed out those moments of doubt, as you go down into a shot, where you are not certain: hit it this way or that way, take that pot or that one, left or right? He suggested standing back, taking a few breaths, making a decision and then committing to it. If you commit to a shot, most times you will achieve what you want. It is those split seconds of indecision that lead you to defeat.
Jimmy Carney, displaying focus and decisiveness, courtesy of Tommy Finlayson Photography
Jimmy Carney with the audience, enjoying the fun mood of Last Man Standing, courtesy of Tommy Finlayson Photography
It was in a game against one of the professionals, Ronan McCarthy, that I realised just what he meant. I broke and he took the table. A couple of pots later, just as I was thinking that I was going to be totally wiped out - Ronan's ability to pot ball after ball after ball like a machine is simply breathtaking - a small error left me on the table.
Ronan McCarthy, just about to give me (sitting in the background) a rare opportunity, courtesy of Tommy Finlayson Photography
This was a one-frame Last Man Standing game, a bit of fun at the end of a long, tense day of pool. I was tournament director and had spent the best part of ten hours coordinating the matches, the scores, the visitors, the spectators, the players.......and I was in the mood to relax into the game. I suddenly found myself potting the balls in quick succession, a little like I used to in my hey day of snooker.
Is that a frown of indecision or concentration on my face? courtesy of Tommy Finlayson Photography
For one or two seconds, the thought struck me that perhaps I could just beat one of the pro-champions. Then there was a tricky yellow. I went down, lined up, and felt that stab of uncertainty. This or that? I plumped for that, but at the same time convinced I should have done this. In that frame of mind, neither option would have been successful. The mistake was made and Ronan pounced like a shark with blood lust and finished me off. Shucks. That's what makes him a champion. As tournament director, I was pretty busy all weekend, but got the chance to watch some superb matches. Not only did the local players acquit themselves admirably, but the pros were an absolute joy to watch. I learnt by watching. Not just technique - you can watch that as much as you want, unless you practise endlessly you will never be able to emulate it. But I observed closely how the pros paused, stood back, took the timer to the very edge just so that they could be sure of their shot, their positioning, where the cue ball had to land to set up the next pot. They were thinking three or four pots ahead. And above all, how they focused, cut out the rest of the room and concentrated on each shot.
Clint I'Anson totally focused, courtesy of Tommy Finlayson Photography
Simon Ward, IPA Professional Final Winner, Gibraltar 2016, just stepping back momentarily and thinking before committing, courtesy of Tommy Finlayson Photography
Craig Marsh in good form winning the Gibraltar Open Final 2016, courtesy of Tommy Finlayson Photography
Chris Bowron, IPA top amateur player, giving an excellent account of himself, courtesy of Tommy Finlayson Photography
I also found myself learning about formality and professionalism from the IPA's most senior referee, Mel Harley. He commanded the floor, the tables, the room, quiet, discreet but always in charge. He received the utmost respect from players and spectators, in fact from all participants. And beyond that, he has a great sense of humour: a total gentleman. It was from watching him and from our discussions later that I have discovered my interest in training to become a referee.
Mel Harley setting the balls up during the Final, courtesy of Tommy Finlayson Photography
On a personal note, I also found that I learned a great deal by working the event. I found out about the mechanics behind laying on such an event, about how important the media element of it is, especially social media to get people involved even if they can't be there. I found out just how much of a huge effort of co-ordination it is - shout out to Paul Heard, Fresh Entertainment, the photographers, Ethan, Jill, Charley, Jordan, Jonathan, Camilla, Tatiana (....if I've missed anyone out, sorry!) and how much local players in Gibraltar are keen, eager and happy to get involved.
The Gibraltar Select Team, picking up their silver medals from IPA Chairman, Kevin Barton, courtesy of John M Piris Photography
The event brought out the best of pool in so many ways, and it brought out the best of Gibraltar's hospitality, with local players taking the visitors on sight-seeing tours and on tours of the local night clubs (of course!). I want more involvement in the sport, whether that means playing or not.
Mel Harley (The Man in the Middle) flanked by Clint I'Anson on the left and Simon Ward on the right, courtesy of John M Piris Photography
This time next week, I will be in Bridlington - and I want to add here a brief note of thanks to my sponsors, Grand Home Care, Gibraltar, who have kindly helped and whose website can be accessed via the link on this page. Along with the GPA team, I am practicing and making as much use of the GPA's Academy for practice as I can. I feel a surge of anticipation, and for a change, a certain glow of confidence. I may not win anything, but I feel I can tap into the right frame of mind to make the most of what is sure to be a terrific week of pool.

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