Togher Talk: Neil Madigan

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neil madiganIMAGINE being in with a genuine chance of becoming a world champion and only getting the opportunity to fulfil the dream because of last minute sponsorship.

Neil Madigan doesn’t have to imagine. The Limerick native will represent Ireland at the World Eightball Pool Championships in Blackpool, England later this month.

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Remarkably, despite his status as one of the country’s top pool players, he owes a significant part of his participation to a local benefactor.

Neil explains: “I can’t wait to get there. It’s the best achievement I’ve had so far. I’m ranked in the top 10 in the country and that’s how I qualified. I travel all over Ireland; I’ve had to go to places like Donegal to all the ranking tournaments in the country.

“It’s very expensive and I could not go to Blackpool unless I got my sponsorship from Thomond Asset Management. Back in February I was asked to be captain of the Irish team for the European Championships and I couldn’t go because of lack of sponsorship.

“Luckily enough I stumbled across Thomond Asset Management and they’re going to give me everything that I need. If it wasn’t for them I couldn’t go.”

The World Championships, which begin on Sunday June 23 and continue for 10 days, will feature players from more than 30 countries and Ireland will be among the favourites.

The latter stages of the tournament are televised live on Sky Sports and, as with many other sporting competitions, Neil admits that the number of realistic contenders is rather small.

“There’s a lot of countries in it but you could rule out most of them. It’s really between six or seven countries.

“Basically it’s on the break of the balls between 60 players, even though there could be over 1,000 players but you could rule out most of them. It’s really just who turns up on the day. It’s between a handful of guys and the standard is fantastic.”

They reached the televised final last year and Neil reckons that the 2013 Irish team is even stronger.

“It’s probably the best team I’ve ever been on and I’m really looking forward to it. The Irish team got to the final last year and I hope we can go one better.

“It’s probably the best team that has gone over there in years, or maybe ever although it’s hard to compare different eras, and I’m looking forward to going over there and getting as far as I can.

“I don’t want to come back and say to people that I lost in the first round. I could because the standard is really high, but I want to do my best and I want the team to win it. I know that I’m capable of beating anyone on my day.”

Neil will travel to the tournament in Blackpool as a man on form, having captained the Limerick A team to victory in the Irish Championship Shield at the South Court Hotel in Raheen earlier this week.

He has achieved a great deal in his pool career, particularly considering that it has been quite stop-start.

“I started playing when I was 14. I was never really any good until I got coaching and then I made the Irish team when I was 17 after six weeks of coaching. There might have been 10 or 11 under 18s playing at the time and I was the worst. Then after six weeks of coaching I was the best.

“In 2002 I got to the last 16 of the World Championships in the under 18s event. I gave it up when I was 22 and I only went back playing last year. I got to the final of the European Championships with the Irish team and I qualified again this year.

“I was asked to captain the team but I had to pull out because they don’t pay anything for the European Championships and this time there’s not much money either. It’s something like €50 each to go.

“Most of the guys playing have money behind them and they’re all from up the country. I’m the only one from Munster and I wouldn’t have had a bob. Luckily I stumbled across Thomond Asset Management and they said whatever I want, I’ll have it.”

Neil has also played snooker, which to the naked eye can seem a very similar game to pool, but as a man with experience of both codes, he has noticed significant differences between the two.

He says that pool, in particular, can be a highly tactical game and that accomplished snooker players can find the transition to the pool table rather difficult.

“The pool is way better. There’s more numbers, more buzz. At the snooker you’ve got to be hush hush but at the pool the atmosphere is unreal; it’s even better than the darts. The pool is number one by a mile.

“If you’re not a pool player you have to learn, no matter how good a snooker player you are. It comes down to tactics. A guy might beat me 10-0 at snooker but in pool if he doesn’t break and pot all the balls he might not win a game. The tactics are totally different. It’s a different form of thinking when you’ve got to try and work it out.”

With the assistance of two fellow Irish internationals, Neil devotes his Thursday evenings to coaching the next wave of pool players at the Victoria Club in Hartstonge Street.

He says: “Robert Mulcahy, Jason Waters and I coach the kids in the club.  I got the lads involved because if there’s 10 kids you can’t give them all your time.

“We’ve got three internationals coaching the juniors so there’s someone there behind us to hang onto our coat tails. We were the youngest up and coming – two of us are 29 and one is 27 – and there should be 18- to 21-year-olds that were competing but there isn’t anybody so I’m trying to make sure that happens.

“If kids want to learn how to play, they’ve got three Irish internationals coaching in the club.”

Those youngsters at the Victoria Club can rest assured that they are being taught very well.