Sean O’Sullivan made the first maximum break of the season at the European Masters qualifiers last week and the mammoth effort came as a relief after a tough time on and off the table.
The 29-year-old was beaten by Barry Hawkins in the match in Leicester on Friday, but came up with the perfect frame nonetheless, the first 147 of his career.
Any maximum is a remarkable break, but the incredibly difficult black O’Sullivan potted after the final red was especially memorable, leaving him very relieved that he didn’t spurn the opportunity for a bit of history.
‘It was pretty plain sailing then I butchered the last red. I don’t know what the odds would have been on me potting that and getting a chance on the yellow,’ O’Sullivan told Metro.co.uk.
‘I was just relieved because I knew I wouldn’t get a better chance than that, the balls were perfect from about 32 onwards.
‘I didn’t really celebrate because I wanted to stay focused. I just had a couple of minutes, went and washed my hands and splashed some water in my face, then I didn’t score another point in the match!
‘I kind of regret it, I wish I’d enjoyed it more at the time but it’s such a weird thing when there’s not many people watching, literally two or three people. There’s no one to celebrate to really. But it’s nice, there’s so many good players that have never had one. I’ve done them in practice before but not many!’
‘I knew I have to be at one with this cue and know what’s going to happen when I play every shot because I was guessing on probably half the shots before. It’s a scary thought when you’re trying to pot some balls for a living.
‘I just really worked hard to give myself a chance. I wanted to beat Barry and I didn’t but the 147 shows I’m doing something right.’
The troublesome new cue was just the latest issue that O’Sullivan has faced in his career, with a more worrying problem emerging last season.
The Londoner has struggled with back problems for years and after a knee issue was added to his worries he sort help, discovering that he is suffering with a form of arthritis.
‘I’ve got a very rare type of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis,’ Sean explained. ‘It’s mainly in teenagers and young adult men.
‘It’s a weird one. I only found out because last year my knee swelled up and I was playing Championship League with a massive knee support on, it was a nightmare.
‘I went to a rheumatologist, because I hadn’t injured it, it just swelled up. I’d had terrible backaches for months as well before that. They thought I probably had this rare type of arthritis and I did.
‘They drained my knee of fluid a couple of times. It was a problem because I couldn’t straighten it. Probably half of last season I had to bend both legs, which for a short arse like me is not ideal.’
Things are looking up, though, with the ankylosing spondylitis under control and the back problems largely dealt with thanks to adalimumab injections. The knee remains a problem, but the situation is far brighter now than it was a few months ago.
‘The arthritis was early stages, so not all doom and gloom, I’ve done some physio and this biological treatment which stops the pain and stops it progressing,’ he said.
‘Since September I’ve given myself injections every two weeks. My back is very rarely painful, it’s been great. Before I was really struggling with that, I couldn’t get out of bed.
‘The knee is still a bit of a problem, I’ve got impingement in it. When I try and straighten it, it can really hurt. If it was the left knee I might have been okay, but because it’s the one I’m trying to straighten all the time it’s just constantly hurting.
‘I’ve been trying to do some running more, but the rheumatologist said I can’t do any of that. they’re going to send me off to some specialised physio for that, to strengthen the knee and the muscles around it to hopefully it starts strengthening itself, because it has been a tricky one.’
O’Sullivan first turned pro at 18 and is now in his second stint on the main tour, with his snooker journey being a testing one both physically and mentally so far.
The Storm has spoken about dealing with mental health struggles in the past as well as the illness and injuries which have hampered him, but he is focusing on the positives and looking forward to more hard practice before his next events in September.
‘Never a dull moment with me, honestly,’ he said. ‘It’d be boring otherwise wouldn’t it?
‘I’m glad now where I am with it all. I feel like I’ve dealt with it pretty well, but I’ve had some ups and downs. Even two weeks ago my head was in the bin. Do I just give the cue back? Is it the cue or is it me? Was it because I wasn’t playing on a new cloth at the time? It’s a mixture of everything.
‘The table got done four or five days after I played the Championship League. I picked my cue up again then and just said to myself, “That didn’t happen, season starts now” and I’ve pretty much locked myself in the club every day and just practiced as hard as I could.
‘I feel like I’m at 75-80% with my cue now whereas literally two weeks ago it was more like 25-30%, it was that bad, I really struggled.
‘I’m just glad I’m in a place now where I can feel about 80% happy, which is enough to get me through matches and competing. Hopefully in a month’s time I’ll be at 100%.’
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