Trump Looks Ahead To World Championship After Beating Wu Yize At WST Classic [4-1, R2]

O’Connor, More Than Your Average Joe

Joe O’Connor, the boy next door. Polite, unassuming and humble, the 27-year-old from Wigston in Leicester is enjoying a brilliant breakout season on the World Snooker Tour. Small in stature, big in heart, with an unwavering poker face.

It’s this which has particularly caught the eyes of the sport’s greats. In a season of near-misses (a Welsh Open quarter-final, Players Championship semi-final and a Scottish Open final), there have been no outbursts, fireworks or melodramatics.

Even at the table, where some snooker players look like they’re trying to apply Pythagoras’ theorem, O’Connor looks so serene. Just him, his cue and the table. It begs the question, could anything make him angry?

“Um, not really, no,” he laughs. “A bad driver might, but only for about four seconds. Some people would give it everything. I’ll probably just sit there and go, ‘Uh what an idiot!’ and that’s it. There’s no road rage when I’m driving.”

Perhaps O’Connor is able to expend that rage through his extra-curricular activities away from the baize. A tenacious defender, he plays football twice a week, hits the gym five times a week and hits the pads during his weekly boxing session.

The ultimate test of that temperament potentially lies ahead. A 17-day marathon at the Crucible this spring. O’Connor has never qualified for snooker’s top tournament, so would the casual cueman crack with trophy in hand?

“Maybe, I don’t know how fast it would sink in though,” said the former World Amateur Pool Champion. “Whether it be there or maybe later at night, something silly like lying in bed and I’d start laughing. Hopefully, in two months’ time, I’ll have that problem!

“I think the big thing that everyone’s seeing is my temperament, level-headedness, my calmness. And watching other people, and how they react in situations in games, I knew that was an advantage for me. When you get to the top of the game, I think that might be the difference in maybe winning one or two titles and then winning ten or 15.

“You can tell when players lose their heads. And because I don’t do it, it’s a little bit funny, maybe that’s the wrong word, but it’s quite exciting to see someone beat themselves up. I haven’t got to put the pressure on them because they’re doing it themselves. You think, ‘they’re on their way, I’ve got ‘em, I’ve got the edge now.’ It’s not like, I’m definitely going to win, you’re just taking edges and little percentages.”

This season has already been one to cherish for O’Connor. In December, he reached his maiden ranking final at the Scottish Open, a run that included victories over four top 18 seeds and Ding Junhui. Yet, it’s a 47 clearance against Neil Robertson in the semi-finals that is perhaps most memorable. Eurosport commentator Neal Foulds described it as one of the best breaks he’d ever seen.

“At the time, it felt good,” admitted O’Connor. “But I came off and everyone’s saying how good it was. And I was like, ‘was it?’ But yeah, I’ve now seen it on Facebook quite a few times.

“But I look back and go, that’s a ridiculous run. You’ve got to be so consistent throughout the week to beat that many good players in a row, and to top it off with the Robertson win. Unfortunately, I didn’t win the trophy, but yeah it was quite a highlight.

“I’ve been practising well for two years now and it’s just a case of giving that time to cement into your game. A key moment was the Welsh Open in 2019, it was my first run. I played very well that week, but now I’m much more of an all-round player. I’m more consistent, with experience to go with it. I think I would beat that version of myself now. And that’s the plan, I want to look back again in a few years and see another big improvement.”

Up next for O’Connor is a return to home soil for the WST Classic. A chance to claim his first ranking event and become the inaugural winner of one too. While some could argue he has bigger fish to fry on the horizon, a sign of his swift surge up the rankings, in true O’Connor style, he’s not getting carried away.

He added: “That’d be ideal to lift one in your hometown. But to be honest any of them will do. So this is the next one I’m going for. I’ve got qualification for the Tour Championship in my mind a little bit, but it was the same at the Welsh when I was going for the Players and I got to the semis.

“Even if I don’t qualify for the Worlds, it’s still been a great season. A quarter, a semi and a final. Doubling my best-ever earnings, in the Grand Prix for the first time, winning a match there. Semi-final of the Players. There is still a hell of a lot of positives already. Getting to the Crucible would just top it off. That’s the cap to an unbelievable season.

“But, I don’t feel like I’ve peaked yet.”

Limited tickets for the final day of the WST Classic remain on sale! CLICK HERE to secure your seat at a brand new ranking event on the World Snooker Tour.