Snooker World Championship: Why the focus should be on Cahill in rather than O’Sullivan out
James Cahill celebrates an incredible victory (photo: Getty Images)

1,009 century breaks; 36 ranking titles, including five World Championships; over £10 million in career earnings; 27 years a professional; the world number one.

18 century breaks; a best ranking finish of the last 16; £80,000 in career earnings; an amateur this season without a ranking.

James Cahill subjected Ronnie O’Sullivan to his first opening round defeat in 16 years, unlocking one of the greatest surprises in snooker history.

However, the performance of the 23-year old, who has made history twice in the space of a week, has been somewhat overshadowed by the man he toppled in a thrilling 10-8 victory.

"I left him some easy shots"

There is no doubting O’Sullivan’s pulling power in the sport of snooker. Arguably the most gifted player on the circuit over the last 20 years, the Rocket is one of only a handful of players known globally outside of the sport.

Yet for every brilliant shot is a story that herds attention from the public. Whether O’Sullivan is complaining about the format of the sport or putting on Australian accents during interviews, the multi-World Champion is a media dream - but rarely has anything positive to say about the sport that has made him millions.

Even during this emphatic defeat, O’Sullivan made it all about him. If the change of hair style between sessions wasn’t enough to draw attention then the way he went about his business certainly would.

Claiming he was “under the weather”, O’Sullivan appeared disinterested in what went before him. He told BBC Sport after the contest that he was “struggling to stay awake” and all his “limbs felt heavy”. Perhaps withdrawal would have been the better option if he was feeling that bad?

Even his thoughts on Cahill’s performance were tinged with sarcasm. “You could say he played well but you could also say I left him some easy shots”. Or perhaps Cahill outplayed O’Sullivan in the biggest match of his life on the grandest stage of snooker?

Social media platforms were bombarded by comments about O’Sullivan. ‘The competition won’t be the same without him’; ‘thousands of viewers will be lost over the next fortnight’; ‘such a shame for the tournament’.


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Wide open

O’Sullivan went into the World Championship as the heavy favourite and deservedly so after winning five of the seven finals he reached in just eleven tournaments. He also regained the world number one spot in the process.

But he has now out. Let's move on.

This latest result blows the contest wide open with no standout favourite for the title. Could Mark Williams, John Higgins or Mark Selby add to their collections? Or could this finally be the year of Judd Trump or Ding Junhui? The likes of Shaun Murphy and Neil Robertson also blitzed away their opening round opponents. Or could an outsider prosper?

Either way, at least one man will be over the moon already.

Cahill’s progressions through the qualification process and this incredible victory are a thrilling advert for snooker. Anyone can beat anyone on any giving day.

Those that may struggle to earn a living lower down the rankings can also take faith from such a result. Cahill has guaranteed himself at least £30,000 from just four matches.

Overcoming the Crucible nerves

The youngster’s mental stability must also be praised and acknowledged. At 8-5, the pressure started to show and the nerves became apparent. Who wouldn't be struggling to keep a cool head with the finish line in sight against one of the greatest of all time?

Cahill missed some good chances to build breaks in frames 14, 15 and 16 - all of a sudden he was level with just a maximum of three to play.

Many would have wilted at that moment. Plenty would have buckled when O’Sullivan raced out the blocks with a rapid 97 in the opening frame of the session to make the score 6-6. Cahill stood firm.

He held his nerve to pot a fine pink and black in a tight 17th frame before finally securing victory with a break of 53 in the 18th. Cahill wasn’t to be put off by O’Sullivan opening and closing his eyes or rubbing his face in the corner.

The history-making amateur continues his rise and this tournament is well and truly alive.