Ronnie battles to third Irish title

Ronnie O’Sullivan held off a superb fightback by Matthew Stevens to capture his third Irish Masters championship in Dublin tonight.

Ronnie O’Sullivan held off a superb fightback by Matthew Stevens to capture his third Irish Masters championship in Dublin tonight.

The world number one certainly had to work hard for his fourth title of the season and his third so far in 2005.

Coasting at 6-1 in the opening session, O’Sullivan then lost five in a row as Welshman Stevens threatened to capture only his second ever ranking title.

However, O’Sullivan’s new mental resolve this season showed itself over the closing frames to take first prize.

He eventually completed a 10-8 success to add the Irish Masters crown to his Wembley Masters, Welsh Open and Grand Prix titles.

It was his 18th ranking title and the Essex ace is clearly favourite to take the last two of the season as well – the China Open and Embassy World Championship.

The outcome should have been even closer after Stevens opened up a 68-0 lead in frame 18.

However, he carelessly missed a red into a middle pocket and O’Sullivan stepped in with a fantastic 69 clearance to steal the frame and match.

“Matthew pushed me all the way,” admitted O’Sullivan. “At 6-1 I was thinking of getting an early night.

“But he played the better snooker from 6-1. He was outplaying me in every department and I was just hanging on.

“I am delighted with the victory because I am always striving for perfection.”

The drama was not confined just to the table. The final session had repeatedly been interrupted by ringing mobile phones despite frequent appeals from referee Paul Collier to switch them off.

In frame 16, though, the spectator slept through the tones until awakened from his slumbers by two stewards.

Taking exception to his nap being disturbed he refused to move from his seat and was finally man handled out of the arena.

With the score at 22-19 in Stevens’ favour both finalists went back to the players’ room to regain the composure before resuming their epic battle.

Stevens then obtained parity once again at 8-8 as the match boiled down to a best of three.

O’Sullivan nosed in front yet again at 9-8 but a careless red at the start of the 18th seemed certain to mean a deciding frame.

However, then came a rare error and O’Sullivan ensured Stevens paid the penalty.

“I just wanted to make the score respectable at 6-1,” said the 2003 UK champion. “I gave him as run for his money but I am a bit disappointed the way it ended.

“Ronnie showed why he is so far in front with that clearance at the end.

“My confidence is getting better, though, and I am looking forward to the world championship now.”

Fáilte Ireland Irish Masters, Citywest Hotel, Dublin:

Final (best of 19 frames): Ronnie O’Sullivan (Eng) bt Matthew Stevens (Wal) 10-8

Frame scores (O’Sullivan first): 22-77 66-2 81-0 73-24 74-27 87-0 68-12 13-84 58-70 0-135(135) 0-77 27-65 108(108)-0 0-123 93-6 19-74 90-25 69-68.

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