For a kid whose nickname is The Breeze, because nothing ruffles him, it’s ironic that Aaron Hill’s snooker career was born out of bitter disappointment.
The Cork 18-year-old caused a sensation last night, knocking world champion Ronnie O'Sullivanout of the European Masters, just four years after Hill first picked up a cue.
Derek Kiely, the General Secretary of the Republic of Ireland Billiards and Snooker Association (RIBSA) — rebranding this weekend as Snooker & Billiards Ireland’ (SBI) — tells the story.
“Aaron was on a soccer trial for the Cork Kennedy Cup (U14) team. He was an excellent hurler with the Glen (Rovers), and an excellent soccer player. He’d got to the last trial for the Kennedy Cup team but was told he wasn’t going to make it.
“And he was disgusted. And his father Stephen said, ‘come on, we’ll go down to the Crucible (Club in Gurranabraher, Cork) and have a game of snooker. And he loved it. And that’s how it happened. So the Kennedy Cup’s loss is Aaron Hill's snooker career’s gain.
“He probably wouldn’t be playing now if he had got the soccer trial. Most of the top players started playing at nine or 10.
“I’ve known Aaron Hill would be a sensation since he was 15 years of age.”
Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Claire Byrne, Stephen says hurling and soccer is now firmly in his son's rearview mirror: "He was an excellent soccer player and he had trials for Cork and he got down to the last few and he wasn’t picked.
"He was devastated over it and I says, 'look, come on, we’ll go down for a game of snooker’, and the rest is history.
"From when he took up a cue the first day four years ago people could just see the gift that he has and it’s just going from strength to strength.
"He was an unbelievable hurler and footballer and soccer player but this is it now."
The first time Kiely saw Hill play was a couple of months too soon.
“I was told about him at the Crucible and I went up to watch him and I actually thought there was nothing special about him and I went away.
“About three months later, at the Cork U19s, this little 14-year-old went on and won it.
“That’s how quick he developed his game. In the space of one year he went from being a guy who took up snooker to a national champion.
“This kid went to his first club championship in Killarney at 14 and had a 93 break.
“When he was only paying a year and a half he lost the World U16 final to a Belgian player in St Petersburg.
“He qualified for the Worlds the year after but financially it’s tough on the parents and they couldn't afford to do that, because it costs about two grand.
“But then the following year he was out in Israel winning the European U18 and the following year he’s back winning U18 and U21. He’s won everything. He’s an All-Ireland champion with the Crucible club.
“He’s probably got the beat cue action I’ve ever seen. His nickname is The Breeze, he just doesn't get excited, get flustered.”
It’s because of that personality Kiely won’t keep a lid on his own expectation.
He spoke to Hill for 20 minutes last night after the win over O’Sullivan. He was as far from overwhelmed as he appeared in his relaxed post-match interview with the World Snooker Tour.
“He was just, yeah yeah, ‘I’m going up now to watch a movie, I'm tired, I’m knackered’. It was just like he’d played a friend down the Crucible.
“That’s the way he is. He gets it from his mother. You couldn't put pressure on Aaron.
“This kid is going to survive on the tour. He’s going to be a top 16 player, I reckon, in three years’ time.
“There’s about 10 players that are light years ahead of him. But the next six in the top 16 he’s quite capable of catching... give him a few months on the tour.
“O’Sullivan reckons there's nothing stopping him being a world champ in six years’ time, he’s that good.
“He said that at The Shootout at Watford earlier this year. Aaron beat Kyren Wilson and O'Sullivan said on Eurosport, ‘what’s stopping this kid being a world champion He’s got the game.’
“He went up to Northern Ireland last year, in Antrim Snooker Club, Mark Allen’s club. Mark was one-up and 60 minutes later he was 4-1 down. And Aaron went on to win the tournament.”
There are two landmark achievements already on the Hill CV.
Winning the European U18 and U21 titles within a week last March is a feat never before achieved in snooker.
And no amateur player anywhere in the world has won a final match with three consecutive centuries, as Hill did when defeating Youghal’s Ross Bullman in the Cork Leagues decider.
“He’s the best young fella I've ever seen play, ever. He’s along the lines of O'Sullivan and Hendry at that same age group.
“He’s the best we’ve had by a mile since Doherty.
“But as talented as he is and as fantastic as he is, the most important element to Aaron Hill is he’s just a lovely, respectful young fella. Very family-orientated and loves Cork and loves representing his club and country. He’s the most respectful player as well as young fella and he’s a credit to his parents.”
The shot of profile for the Irish game couldn’t have come at a better time for Kiely, as the association relaunches this weekend at the Ivy Rooms Snooker Club in Carlow.
💬 "One day I'm going to show him what I can do. I think today was the day."— World Snooker Tour (@WeAreWST) September 24, 2020
Newly-turned professional @AaronHill147 (18) was thrilled just to be playing his childhood hero. But then to BEAT him?
There's a new kid on the block 🤙 #BVEuroSeries pic.twitter.com/Xt8XzZcI43
Kiely adds: “It’s huge. We’re trying to take it into the 21st century really.
“With the success of the players we’ve had and the ideas going forward for the organisation, we've changed the name and the brand to SPI.
“If you walked down Patrick Street and you asked anyone who RIBSA was, there's a good chance nobody will know. But if you ask them who Snooker and Billiards Ireland are in a few weeks they’ll mention Aaron Hill or the Crucible.
“We’ve had a lot of success over the last seven or eight years.
“Currently we can boast of top-class players the likes of Mick Judge, Rodney Goggins, Brendan O’Donoghue, Davy Morris, Ross Bulman and plenty of younger talent coming through.
“There’s Mark Tuite, Individual European Masters Champion; Tuite and Anthony Bonnar, European Master Team Champions; Robert Murphy and Mick Judge, Men’s Team European Champions; Josh Boileau, a European U-21 Champion; and David Hogan, a European Mens Individual Champion.
“We’ve a brand new website and lots of plans to develop the game with all genders, including disability snooker which isn’t in Ireland right now. “
Aaron Hill faces world number 33 Matthew Stevens at 2.30pm today in the European Masters. Coverage of the tournament is live on Eurosport.