PJ Nolan has spent at least two decades spreading snooker’s gospel.
A highly-rated, highly-qualified coach who has worked everywhere from Austria to the UAE, he has taught countless players how to make the most of their talents.
He has worked with raw kids, up-and-comers and even Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien.
There can’t be much that Nolan hasn’t seen when it comes to buds of promise on the green baize and yet the Wexford man was clearly taken aback by what Ross Bulman achieved at the National Championships in Carlow last weekend.
Bulman, a 15-year old from Youghal in Cork, claimed four Junior titles at U16, U18, U19 and U21 level over the two days. He is the first to do it but this was no bolt from the blue. He managed three as a 13-year-old in 2015 and another pair last year.
“To win three two years ago was a freak, so to win four…, ” says Nolan.
Bulman won 16 frames over the Saturday and Sunday and lost three. The players he beat — Aaron Hill from Crucible SC in Cork and his Youghal CYMS clubmate Noel Landers lost two deciders each — are rated by Nolan as among the top eight juniors in Europe.
Hill made a European U18 semi-final this year. Landers has rattled off two century breaks in a world championship. Bulman managed three tonnes in the Ivy Rooms in Carlow. His 128 was the best of the weekend, beating the top mark set in the senior event by eight.
“He’s very mature for his age,” says Nolan.
“He’s from a good family and he has a great setup behind him down there in Youghal. He has the potential to be one of the best as long as he stays focused and keeps up his training.”
That appears to be a given.
The bug bit as soon as his grandfather began to stop in at the CYMS during regular walks with an eight-year-old Ross and his 11-year-old brother Adam.
It wasn’t long after when an eight-foot table was installed in a purpose-built shed.
That was only a stopgap. A full-sized table followed and Bulman spends his time between that and the CYMS.
The routine is set in stone: arrive home from school, have a bite and then practise for the next four or five hours. Weekends just mean more time for snooker.
“The schooling suffers,” says his mum Annette.
“But everyone has different talents and this is his. He just loves it. His cue had to be refurbished for a few days there before Christmas and he was lost without it. It was like someone had taken his arm off.”
What’s remarkable talking to him is how level-headed he is. His highest break is 141.
He recorded it a few months ago at the CYMS when when practising with a visiting Irish international but he describes it, in an entirely unaffected way, as just another frame.
When he won his three Irish titles three years ago he made sure to thank CYMS president Brendan Cooney for his help, another local Eddie Hickey, Nolan and all his clubmates.
“And your parents and family…” his mum prompted at the time.
The goal is clear, the path plotted. Like us all, Bulman is a fan of Ronnie O’Sullivan but when you prod him for a favourite player he opts for Stephen Hendry, a man whose zenith came long before his time but someone he has studied assiduously on tape.
The dream is to walk in those shoes at the Crucible.
“That’s still the dream. I was looking at going to Q School this year. Sixteen players qualify for the pro tour for two years on the back of that but I can’t with the Junior Cert. I’m in transition year next year so I’ll do it then.”
There are other branches of the snooker tree to climb.
Next year’s U21 European Championship offers another ticket to the pro game. The winner is rewarded with a pro licence and was won last year by Josh Boileau of Newbridge, Co Kildare.
Boileau beat Shaun Murphy, at the time the world number six, at the Welsh Open two months ago.
Whatever Bulman’s route from here, it’ll be a busy one.
He reached the semi-finals of the European U18 championships as a 14-year old in Poland last year and has the Home Internationals in Leeds in August and a Celtic Challenge against Wales back in Carlow in June to come.
There are a couple of places waiting for him in the world championships in Beijing in July too, in the U18 and U21 competitions, although there are some logistical issues that have to be ironed out if that is to happen.
Whatever about China, the kid is going places.
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