World number 20 Joe Perry believes the starkness of the sporting reality throughout the coronavirus pandemic has acted as a catalyst for him to inject new enthusiasm into his preparation for tournaments this season.
The Cambridge cueman struggled to produce his best snooker during the 2020/21 campaign, registering just one quarter-final appearance, which came at the UK Championship.
Having toiled under behind closed doors conditions, 46-year-old Perry hopes that the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the return of spectators can inspire him to up his standards.
With the new season just weeks away, we’ve spoken to Perry about how he coped last season, his thoughts on the year ahead and how he found working as a commentator at the World Championship…
Joe, how are you feeling about the new season and how much are you looking forward to potentially returning to a more normal circuit?
“Last year gave me an opportunity to think about what I want to do. I decided that I want to really get my head down, stay up the top for a bit longer and aim to win another trophy. Everyone has been forced into different sorts of situations over the last year. I was very lucky to have a table at home, so I could play when I wanted to. Ultimately I didn’t really utilise it. That made me look at things with a bigger perspective and I made a conscious decision to make more of an effort this season. I’ve realised that playing every other day for a couple of hours isn’t going to cut it. That may have been good enough several years ago, but it isn’t anymore. I’m looking forward to the season, getting back in the club and I’ve already had some games with other players. You need to be ready, because the standard is too high.”
Who have you been practising with so far this summer?
“I’ve had a couple of games with Peter Devlin, he is keen and happy to come to the club and play. I’ve got games lined up with Sean Maddocks and young Jamie Wilson as well. All of these people were contacting me for games last year and I just wasn’t really interested. I would come up with excuses and put them off. I’ve accepted the offers this time. I’m hoping to keep busy this year and see what happens. It doesn’t give you a God given right to win matches but it will give me a chance.
“I’ve really enjoyed playing with the younger guys. I know how tough it is when you are starting out to get games with the higher ranked players. Some of them can be pretty elusive and hard to get hold of, so I try to make myself available. Hopefully it can help them to progress and come through. I’ve never been very high on confidence as a player. When I play these young players, they are full of life and full of confidence. That helps me. It also reaffirms that I can play the game, because ultimately I do normally win these practice matches. It shows to me that I do have a future in the sport.”
Your only victory on the tour so far came in Thailand at the 2015 Players Championship. How much would it mean to you to win one on home soil and be able to share it with friends and family?
“That is the main thing that is keeping me going, my biggest motivation. Don’t get me wrong, I’d jump at the chance to win something overseas, but to do it at home and be able to share that with friends and family is a big motivation of mine. I do believe that I have that win in me. Whether it comes or not, I don’t know. There are 128 of us starting out the season all believing we can go out and win one. Things have to go your way on a given week. There is no reason if those things come together that I can’t do it. I just have to be on my guard at all times because it is so tough.”
What did you miss most last season from the normal snooker environment?
“One of the things I really did miss last season was not being able to go out and watch the matches in the arena. I’ve never been one for sitting around in my hotel room and watching box sets. Going out into the arena helps me to get a feel for things. I like to be in and around the player’s lounge, chatting to people and watching the snooker. I really missed that and found killing time in between matches really difficult last year.
“I think I get more benefit from watching a match in the arena for an hour, than I do having an hour on the practice table. Practising for an hour isn’t going to give me a better chance of winning a tournament, but if I stay engaged with the whole thing and concentrate on snooker stuff, I feel I’m better prepared for my next match. I turned up for so many matches last year feeling like I was about to go for a best of seven down at the club. Because the standard is so ridiculously high these days, you can’t afford to have that attitude. You need to be switched on at all times. I did lose a lot of matches last year which I was quite a heavy favourite to win. My normal preparation just wasn’t available to me and I found myself going into games very cold.”
You commentated for the BBC at the World Championship for the second year in a row. How did you find the experience and do you see TV work as the path you would like to go down when you hang up your cue?
“It was great, as I’ve already said, I’ve really missed not watching snooker. Being in the commentary box gave me an opportunity to watch snooker. I feel like I know the game pretty well and I’ve bridged eras in snooker. The game was very different when I started out and I watched a lot of that. I’ve now seen it progress to the modern style of snooker. I feel like I’ve got something to give with it and I enjoy it and like passing on my knowledge. I get a bit of a buzz out of watching the play and I have no favourites when I’m watching so I’m pretty impartial.
“You just say it as you see it and if it comes across well, then all good. You do learn though and get more comfortable with what you are doing. In the early days I was never sure if I was saying too much or not enough. Working with people like John Virgo this year was an eye opener. It is great to be up close to these people. They are there for a reason, because they are so good at it. Virgo is a legend in the commentary box and I feel like I learned a lot working with him.
“It is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, with my results dipping in the last couple of years. I’m not silly, I know it is going to come to an end one day. There are players I grew up with who have been hanging on to their tour card. I’m not doing that. I’ll put it on record now and say that once I drop off the tour, I won’t be going to Q School. That will be me done. I’ve played snooker all of my life and I don’t really have that passion for anything else. So ultimately if the opportunity was available to go down the punditry and commentary route I’d go for it. That would be my dream really, if I could nail that down I’d jump at it.”