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Burden Ready For Q School

Alfie Burden is gearing himself up for a Q School campaign later this week, despite a near miss at the World Seniors Championship causing him to question whether he would take to the baize.

The seniors event heralded Burden’s first appearance at the Crucible since the 1998 World Championship. He made his mark by beating Ken Doherty, Stephen Hendry and Ben Hancorn to earn a place in the title match.

Burden faced close friend Jimmy White in the final, but lost out 5-3 after a below par performance. Although he was very proud to return to the Theatre of Dreams, it was an experience which left him unsure if he wished to continue the battle to regain his professional status.

“I loved playing at the Crucible again, because I haven’t played there for many years. I think I played some great snooker. I’m disappointed I didn’t win it, but I don’t begrudge my mate Jimmy winning. Believe it or not, I felt very down after it. I wanted to win and felt I let my family down. I didn’t want to keep playing afterwards,” said 46-year-old Burden.

“I just didn’t feel like I had it in the tank to start practising and come back for Q School. I spoke to a couple of people and I’ve tried to get my head around it. I still feel I have a great game. It is hard for me to walk away when I think I am good enough, not just to be on the tour, but I still feel I’m good enough to compete. I know it was only the World Seniors, but some of the snooker I played showed what I am capable of.

“It was a difficult match in the final for a couple of reasons. Jimmy is obviously my best mate. He is like family to me and we speak on the phone every day. We try to help each other out with a few different things. He just won’t even hear any suggestions of me stopping playing. He is a brilliant person.”

Despite Burden’s disappointment at how the event ended, he now looks back on his performance at the World Seniors Championship fondly and is proud of the snooker he produced. In particular, his win over seven-time Crucible king Stephen Hendry in the quarter-finals was a significant one. Burden had never faced the legendary Scot on this sort of stage before, but he revealed Hendry was someone who helped his development early on in his career.

“Playing Stephen Hendry at the Crucible was a special moment. He is someone who I’ve always had an awful lot of respect for. I used to practice with him as a 16 year old. I was signed up to his management team and went up regularly to play with him in Stirling when he was winning all of those world titles. He gave me a lot of time in my younger days and I’ve always had a lot of respect for him. It wasn’t a win over Stephen Hendry at his best, but you still need to stand up and beat the man so it was nice.

“On the whole, I had a great experience. It was the first time that my children, Lene and Bow, have seen me play. I just thought if they were going to come and watch, the Crucible was a nice place to do it.”

After a period of reflection Burden decided it was right to throw his hat in the Q School ring and try to return to the professional ranks. One of his motivations for coming through Q School is to bid for a return to Sheffield for the final stages of the full World Championship.

Burden beat Rebecca Kenna and Alexander Ursenbacher in his run at Crucible qualifying this year, but was defeated in the third round by Stephen Maguire, a result which ended his most recent period on the World Snooker Tour. If he can come through Q School, he believes he has it in him to qualify for the final stages, after missing out for 25 years.

Burden faces either Aristos Pampouris or Neil Craycraft in his first match of Q School Event One, which kicks off on Friday. He is expecting a difficult task gaining one of the eight available slots, but is desperate to come through and showcase what he is capable of on snooker’s biggest stage.

“I have no doubt that my game is good enough to get back to the Crucible. However, I am under no illusions how tough Q School is. You could stick anyone in that format and they wouldn’t be a certainty. It is really tough. You need to go there, play well and probably have a bit of luck as well. It is a brutal format and only eight can get through. Without sounding big headed I know I am one of the best there, but it doesn’t give you a divine right to come through it.

“Last time at Q School I had a year out of playing snooker, then had two weeks of practice and managed to somehow get on. I thought that was easy but when I played on the main tour I felt that year off. After that year I changed my cue in the summer. For the first half of last season I was gone and all over the place with the new cue. In the back end of last season I played quite well. I was losing tight games to very good players. I know my game was coming back to a good level again. On the back of then playing well in the seniors, it is difficult to walk away.

“I believe I would hit the ground running next season on the tour. I’m practising properly and have got used to my cue. I see my game coming to a level where I can compete. I suppose it would be quite emotional to get through again. I want to try to qualify and come into next season as a better person and a stronger player.”

Q School runs from May 26 to June 6 in Leicester.

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