Northern Ireland Open 2020: A 147, mid-match fart and O’Sullivan refusing to stop
The Northern Ireland Open saw Judd Trump collect a third Alex Higgins trophy in three years when he defeated Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-7 in the final at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes. But that told only half the story of a tournament decorated with excellent snooker, tense drama and a mysterious mid-match fart.
Northern Ireland Open - O'Sullivan's four-cushion escape at 0-1 in the first frame
A lot. But chiefly, Judd Trump became the first player to win the same ranking event three years in a row since Stephen Hendry in 1996 when he beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 9-7 in the final. The seven-time world champion Hendry won the UK Championship in 1994, 1995 and 1996, beating Ken Doherty, Peter Ebdon and John Higgins in respective finals. Trump produced another masterclass against O’Sullivan, whom he now holds a 10-6 record against in finals. His excellence left Jimmy White purring.
"The more he wins the more he wants to win and the more he wants to practise. Sometimes when you're playing Judd Trump and he's potting balls, there is nowhere you can put him safely.
Trump's potting is absolutely phenomenal. Next to none. Unlike anything we have seen before.
"There were times when we all thought Ronnie had put the balls safe, but two shots later he's banging balls in with everything open."
Final shots as Trump wins 19th ranking event
A fifth maximum for Trump
It was on the back of his long-potting ability that the world number one would set in motion a fifth career maximum, the 31-year-old knocking in a 147 against Yang Gao in their second-round match. Dave Hendon, on commentary, called the maximum on the fourth black such has been the Bristolian’s excellence.
Watch Judd Trump's stunning 147 maximum break in full
Trump brought that imperious form into the final, producing the below to help open up a three-frame lead over The Rocket.
'Fabulous shot' - Trump's brown-blue combo opens up three-frame lead
While Trump won the tournament, it was the player he beat in the final – O’Sullivan – who remains the sport’s most compelling character, both on and off the baize. The six-time world champion produced some mesmeric snooker, such as this brilliant four-cushion escape, despite harbouring a growing dislike for the practice table.
O'Sullivan's brilliant four-cushion escape
'Netflix with a cigar'
O’Sullivan detailed his aversion to the practice arena after his comeback win against old foe Ali Carter, The Rocket saying he would rather abstain from practising and prefers watching Netflix with a cigar.
"I definitely haven't practised, and you can check the CCTV up there if you like," O'Sullivan joked to Eurosport presenter Andy Goldstein after the match.
I haven't been on a practice table once this week, I refuse to go on there. You get on a table and there's someone staring at you to get off.
"I'm too old to have someone trying to get me off the practice table, some geezer I've never seen before. I just stay away, I don't need it, to be honest with you.
I'd rather be sitting up watching a bit of Netflix chilling out, smoking a cigar.
O'Sullivan: 'I'd rather watch Netflix smoking a cigar than get on a practice table'
O’Sullivan regularly returned to the table needing an unfeasible amount of snookers during the tournament, in an attempt to hone his skills.
It led to the bizarre spectacle of O’Sullivan clearing up the table, with no interest in pursuing the snookers required, only to finish well adrift of his opponent’s total and still lose the frame.
The return of barge-gate?
The match against Carter had been billed as a grudge match in some quarters following a coming together at the Worlds in 2018, see below:
Relive O’Sullivan and Carter’s shoulder barge spat at 2018 World Snooker Championship
"I didn't apologise to Ali and I didn't apologise to Mark Allen either," insisted O'Sullivan. "I just said, 'let's move on'. Let's not hold any grudges, it is what it is.
"I still feel I was in the right on both occasions and so that apology they say that I said was definitely not an apology."
‘Sometimes beating Slessor better than beating Selby at Worlds’
Yet, of course, that practice table abstinence did little to halt his progression through the rounds, with the 44-year-old calling his win against Elliot Slessor in the second round as one of the best of his career.
Watch 'immaculate' O'Sullivan seal victory over Slessor
“That’s up there with one of the best victories of my career,” he told Eurosport.
“He’s beaten me twice before, had the voodoo sign over me, seems to play fantastically well every time he plays me, and he started off really well again and I was thinking ‘here we go again, he’s going to pump me 4-1, bit more cake in the face…back up the M1, I’m going home’.
Sometimes beating someone like Elliot Slessor in this tournament in that round is better than beating someone like [Mark] Selby in the semi-finals of the Worlds because he is up for it, you have everything to lose. Everyone on the circuit knows how good Elliot is and he can play.
While the tournament’s brilliance was undoubtedly headed by O’Sullivan and Trump, it was not solely dominated by the pair, with Eden Sharav, promoted to the match table after Neil Robertson’s opponent Declan Lavery had to withdraw due to Covid-19, producing the below masterful piece of safety play against Ding Junhui.
'Look at that for a shot!' - Sharav plays tremendous snooker against Ding
The world number 72 would ultimately fall 4-0 to the current UK Championship champion such is the standard at the upper echelons of the game.
A mid-match fart: 'I'm taking full ownership of that one'
However, a tournament for the ages, full of drama and tension may be best remembered in some quarters for a mid-match fart.
Matthew Stevens led O’Sullivan 2-1 in their third-round match in Milton Keynes when someone broke wind.
Best of 2020: O'Sullivan grins after mid-match fart
“I don’t know who it was but I’ve got my suspicions,” announced Neal Foulds on Eurosport commentary duty.
The camera panned first to O’Sullivan, who couldn’t suppress a grin, before it fixed on an unavoidably guilty looking referee.
“He couldn’t be any redder, could he,” added David Hendon alongside Foulds.
If he was any redder, he would be one of the balls in the bunch.
"I dropped my guts," admitted O'Sullivan after his 4-2 comeback win. "I've had bad stomach problems for the last three months, I've been having tests in the hospital.
I said to the ref, 'was that you?' We had a laugh out there. But I'm taking full ownership of that one.
He added: "I have been bad since September. Honestly, it has been really bad. I have had tests done and will have more tests after this.
"It is why I could not do the lockdown, the bubble, because my stomach was so bad with the food."
Eurosport's snooker coverage continues with the UK Championship starting on Monday November 23 and running all the way through to the final on Sunday 6 December with Ding Junhui the defending champion. Usually held in York, it is now in Milton Keynes due to the Covid-19 pandemic.