Stephen Maguire ended a five year major title drought with a 9-8 victory over Stuart Bingham in the BetVictor Welsh Open final in Newport tonight.
It is Maguire’s fifth ranking title and must feel like his sweetest, not just because of the five barren years it has followed but also because of the manner in which he finally achieved victory.
He was put through the emotional ringer all day. So too was Bingham. This was a classic, with high quality snooker and many twists and turns.
It proves that, whatever people say, snooker does not rest on the shoulders of a couple of superstars.
In fact, it stands or falls by the quality of entertainment and drama it can provide, whoever is playing. This final was as gripping as any we have seen all season.
Bingham had the clear psychological upper hand at 7-5 but failed to put away the 13th frame, which Maguire finally claimed on the black.
That gave the Scot fresh momentum and he grabbed the lifeline with both hands, forging 8-7 in front.
But pressure and nerves were by now growing and Bingham won a tense 16th frame to force the decider.
In the end he failed to make a plant and Maguire made a really good break to cross the winning line. The way he thumped the table in celebration showed how much it meant to him.
Stephen is actually incredibly laid back off the table. But when he gets out in the arena he wears his heart on his sleeve.
You would be tough if, like Maguire, you’d grown up with a tankful of baby sharks in your bedroom.
The key figure in his formative snooker years was his late grandfather, Paddy, who knocked down a wall between two rooms in his house to install a full sized table so young Stephen could practice there after school.
As a teenager, he practised with Stephen Hendry, a unique snooker education which must have brought his game on.
Maguire turned professional in 1999. His first ranking title came in 2004 at the European Open.
Within weeks at the end of that year he had beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan twice, first in reaching the British Open final and then en route to winning the UK Championship.
So well was Maguire playing at this time that O’Sullivan predicted he would “dominate snooker for the next ten years.”
He didn’t, but neither did anyone else. His victory tonight means the last 11 ranking events have each been won by a different player.
But Maguire always looked like he should belong in the winners’ circle. He has been knocking on the door for the last couple of years and it has finally opened.
Bingham was gracious as to be expected from one of the game’s genuine good guys. It wasn’t his night but he’ll be back for the next event, as enthusiastic as ever.
Finally, BBC Wales saw greater sense than the main network usually does by not only starting the final session at 7pm but by splitting the frames eight and nine.
This meant that though it was a relatively late finish it was still before 11pm rather than yet another midnight job.