Gild the Lilley: David has never been a full-time pro before
David Lilley earned a place on the World Snooker Tour for the first time at the age of 43, thanks to a 4-0 win over Sean Maddocks in the final round of Q School event one.
Lilley joins Iran’s Soheil Vahedi, China’s Xu Si and Jamie O’Neill as the quartet of players to make it through the first Q School tournament in Wigan, earning a tour card for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.
A familiar face on the amateur circuit for many years, Lilley has had success in pro tournaments while competing as a ‘top-up’, notably reaching the quarter-finals of the 2016 Indian Open and the last 32 of two ranking events last season.
He previously worked in the insurance industry, but last year took the decision to quit his long-term job in order to commit himself to snooker. He will now feel that choice has been rewarded, having graduated to the pro circuit for the first time.
Lilley won six matches in Wigan over the past six days, culminating in a comfortable win over teenager Maddocks, highlighted by breaks of 117 and 64.
“I’m feeling shocked and overwhelmed because I have been playing for 30 years,” said Lilley, from Washington which is between Sunderland and Newcastle. “Since I gave up my job last September, from a financial point of view my family have had to tighten our belts. But it has given me the chance to practise regularly which has made a huge difference.
“Last season I played in a lot of events as a top-up which gave me good experience and exposure to the tour. Losing to the top players gives you the mental hardness that you need. I got a new cue two weeks ago and that has also made a big difference. To turn pro is what I wanted, I have achieved it now and I’m so happy!
“I was surprised by how relaxed I was in the final match today, I was determined to play positively and with confidence, and that’s what I did.
“This is where the hard work starts. The tour is a lot tougher than the amateur circuit. I want to play well and hopefully that will lead to success. I have ambitions of winning tournaments, as everyone does, but it is so hard. I am going to enjoy it and give it everything for two years.”
Vahedi (right) with Hossein Vafaei
Vahedi scored a 4-2 win over Ireland’s 17-year-old Ross Bulman in the final round, coming from 2-1 down to take the last three frames.
One of two Iranian players on the tour alongside Hossein Vafaei, 30-year-old Vahedi turned pro in 2017 after winning the world amateur title. Over the past two seasons he has enjoyed some promising results, reaching the last 32 of two ranking events, but not enough to avoid relegation at the end of last season. He has bounced straight back and now has the chance to progress for another two years.
“I’m a more experienced player now so the next two years will be better,” said Vahedi. “I know the game better now and I’m more relaxed. I’m going to live in Scotland and play at a great club called Minnesota Fats in Glasgow.
“My fans in Iran will be very happy that I have got through Q School because they know how tough it is. My goal now is to get into the top 64 because I don’t want to go through this again.”
Xu’s story is a similar one as he turned pro in 2017 after winning the world under-21 title. He impressed during his debut season, reaching the semi-finals of the Indian Open, but struggled for results last term, failing to go beyond the last 64 of any tournament.
The 21-year-old earned another two years by beating fellow Chinese cueman Wang Zepeng 4-2 in the final round. From 2-0 down, Xu stepped up to the plate to win four frames in a row with runs of 76, 69, 137 (the highest break of the tournament) and 52.
O’Neill saw off Germany’s Lukas Kleckers 4-1, making top breaks of 60 and 53. The 32-year-old from Essex has had several spells on the pro tour before and reached the last 16 of the China Open in 2014.
There are two more Q School events to go, each with four tour cards available. The next four highest players on the final Order of Merit will also be promoted to the pro tour. Event two starts on Friday – for the match schedule click here.