Michael Judge regained a place on the World Snooker Tour after a ten year absence by beating Kuldesh Johal 4-0 in the final round of Q School event two.
Judge, Alfie Burden, Barry Pinches and Craig Steadman all secured tour cards for the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons.
Irishman Judge was a familiar face on the circuit for almost two decades from 1992 to 2011, notably reaching the semi-finals of the Grand Prix in 2004 and the last 16 at the Crucible in 2001, and spending several seasons ranked among the top 32. He enjoyed one subsequent moment in the limelight in 2019 when he won the UK Seniors Championship, beating Jimmy White in the final.
He was not at his best against Johal but breaks of 45 and 43 helped him to a comfortable win. “It feels great,” said the 45-year-old Dubliner. “After I fell off the tour ten years ago, I put the cue away and sorted out my life. I was doing a bit of work at the Q Club in Wicklow. I played on the amateur scene just for the enjoyment, and after five or six years I decided to give it another go. Then my wife had a baby boy so I put snooker on hold for a couple of years.
“During lockdown I was thinking I wouldn’t mind giving it a go, and a friend said he would back me. I started practising hard and things have fallen into place. Here I am, back on tour for more torture! I always felt I was good enough to get back on if I gave it a proper go. Whether I can hold my own, we’ll soon find out. I’m just looking forward to seeing what it brings me.
“Winning the UK seniors final against one of the all-time greats in Jimmy White in a packed arena really inspired me. That has given me the confidence that I can do it on any stage. I know I can beat anyone on my day once I get sharp. The tour will suit me because there are so many tournaments you don’t need to practise that much.”
Alfie Burden also regained his tour card, after a much shorter hiatus of 11 months. The 44-year-old Londoner recovered from the loss of the first frame to beat Michael Collumb 4-1 with a top break of 70.
Former World Amateur Champion Burden has 24 seasons as a pro behind him and has reached the quarter-finals of four ranking events. After relegation in 2020, he missed out on a return via Q School, then took time away from snooker. He admitted in this recent interview that he had missed the thrill of competition and camaraderie on the circuit so decided to give the qualifying minefield another try, this time successfully.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Burden. “I only had three weeks preparation for this so I didn’t have much expectation. I didn’t know how I would deal with the pressure. In this school my experience goes a long way. I have enjoyed being back out there. I didn’t play great, but dug in.
“During the pandemic I got very bored and missed the game, so I decided there was no harm in giving Q School another try and rolling the dice. I’m looking forward to two more years on the tour. They thought the hell-raiser was gone, but he’s back! I don’t fear anyone, I’ll just enjoy it.
“I have always been fiercely competitive, I never give up. I have always believed in my ability. I have probably under-achieved but that’s my own fault because I didn’t live in the right manner. Hopefully my son can look at me and think ‘the old man doesn’t give in, he comes back for more.’ If he carries that into his career (footballer son Lene has just signed for Bristol Rovers) when times are hard then that will be a good example for him. I’ll be doing a lot of miles to Bristol to watch him play.
“I’d like to thank my coach Alan Bell, Whetstone Snooker Club and everyone there for their support, and finally my daughter Bow who is like an angel on my shoulder, I am so lucky to be her dad.”
Craig Steadman survived some nervous moments to beat Hammad Miah 4-3. From 3-0 up, Farnworth’s Steadman lost the next three frames then trailed 34-0 in the decider. But breaks of 48 and 28 gave him victory and a place on the circuit which he had previously held from 2012 to 2020.
“I should have won 4-1, then it all went wrong,” admitted 38-year-old Steadman, who reached the semi-finals of the Shoot Out last season while competing as an amateur. “I felt very nervous at 3-1 but then in the last frame I felt quite calm. I had an unbelievable fluke in the decider so I feel for Hammad because he stuck in well from 3-0. The relief is massive, I’m stunned. There’s a lot on the line, no one wants to come back tomorrow and start it all again.
“It was nice to have a run at the Shoot Out, and that gave me the motivation to start playing again. I practised really hard for this, but as soon as I got here I felt as if I had not played a proper match for ten years. It felt really tough.
“My personal life has been fantastic over the past year as my wife had a baby and I spent four or five months helping renovate the house. So that took my mind off not playing snooker. But then I started missing it, so I’m happy now that I’ll be back playing.”
Barry Pinches got the better of a dramatic deciding frame to beat Sanderson Lam 4-3. From 2-0 down, Pinches took three frames in a row with a top break of 100, before Lam won the sixth for 3-3. Both players had chances in the decider and it came down to the colours. Lam potted the last red, brown and yellow but then missed the green and Pinches took green, brown, blue and pink to win it 63-54.
The 50-year-old from Norwich first turned pro back in 1989 and was once ranked 18th in the world. He becomes the second player aged 50 or over to come through Q School this month, joining Peter Lines who qualified through the first event.
“I have played in big matches at the Crucible and all the main venues, and the pressure just doesn’t get any bigger than that,” said Pinches. “When the next two years depend on one shot, it’s so hard. He missed an awkward green. My adrenaline was pumping but I managed to take the last few balls. I tried to fist-pump where Sanderson couldn’t see me because I was psyched. It’s pure relief.
“I have always taken the view that if you enjoy playing and you can manage financially, you should keep going. All of the guys who got through today are all older players. Snooker is not an easy game to get good at! There are so many good, hardened pros age 35, 40 or even 50. It’s so difficult for the younger players to get through Q School.
“I’d like to get back to the standard I was at in the early 2000s when I was pushing for a place in the top 16. I’m not saying I can get that high, I’d just like to get back close to that level because I haven’t done myself justice for the past two years.”
Event three starts on Tuesday in Sheffield and runs until Sunday.