Michael Judge takes aim at Crucible return after 11 years

Michael Judge takes aim at Crucible return after 11 years
Michael Judge pictured in 2005.

Michael Judge stands one win away from a comeback of Tiger Woods proportions — and making World Championship history.

The 44-year-old amateur from Dún Laoghaire fell off the tour after 19 years back in 2011, and his last of three career Crucible appearances came three seasons before that.

But a rollercoaster chain of events over the past 10 days has left even Judge in a daze.

Having finished 10th in a first Q-School for eight years, he got a ‘lucky loser’ call and pass into the qualifiers at the English Institute of Sport after the late withdrawal of China’s Zhang Jiankang.

Then Judge justified that decision by knocking out the vastly experienced Peter Lines in the first of three gruelling rounds. And he topped even that by edging out former ranking event finalist Xiao Guodong 10-9 in a midnight thriller on Sunday evening.

He now faces England’s James Cahill for a place at the iconic Sheffield venue — and the clash guarantees an amateur at the Crucible for the first time.

All-time greats Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, and Mark Williams are widely known as the ‘Class of 1992’, with that being the year they turned pro. But that was also the summer that Judge got his first tour card — and he has been scrapping to make ends meet since snooker stopped being his living. The £15,000 earned this week will help.

Judge said:

“To get back to the Crucible now would be incredible, the best achievement of my career by far. It would be like a non-league team getting to the quarters or semi-finals of the FA Cup maybe.

“I am tired after two late finishes, but I will be giving my all against James.

“I don’t even know why the Chinese lad pulled out, sometimes it can be visa problems. It was the first time I played Q-School last summer since 2011, and I didn’t think I had any chance.

“So I was stunned to get the phone call last Monday and didn’t realise it was so close until she told me I had to be in Sheffield to play on the Wednesday. I just said yes, and paid the £700 entry fee.

“I hadn’t picked up my cue for 10 days, so there was some apprehension. I did really well to beat Peter Lines, but even my friends gave me no chance against Xiao Guodong.

“But no one is invincible in this game as I have found out over the years.

“I threw my cue case in the corner for 14 months after losing my tour place, but then got back into the amateur game.

“I have had no real interest in getting back on the tour, so this is a free shot really. You can say there is no pressure, but when it goes close there still is of course.

“I did turn pro the same year as Ronnie, John, and Mark. I came over as the Irish whizzkid, we were all the same age. I remember talking to John in Blackpool and couldn’t understand a word he said. He was probably the same with me.

“We all got on very well, but obviously I didn’t achieve anything like what those legends have in the game. But I had 19 years on tour without falling off.

“I had good times, bad times, but overall no regrets and I really enjoyed it. It is nice to roll back the years for a few days at least.

“I haven’t been doing much for work. I had something in a local college last year working as a sports mentor with teenagers, but that only lasted a year and is finished.

“You try and find bits and pieces, it can be hard as an ex-pro with no qualifications to get a job. Maybe there could be some coaching down the line.

“You just want enough to put some food on the table for the family, pay the bills and get by, things are pretty tight but this week will help.

“I have a backer who has helped me with expenses to get here — Anthony Bonner — and Ken Doherty and Shaun Murphy have been kind enough to let me practise on their tables.

“And I have enjoyed playing on the Seniors tour, that allowed me to beat Stephen Hendry at the Crucible last year on a re-spotted black.

“But I have three boys, with a five-month-old baby — there would be too much travelling for the pro life again, but it is great to have one last crack at this and see if I still have it.”

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