KEN DOHERTY can hardly accept it’s nearly a quarter of a century since he shocked the Crucible and claimed snooker’s premier prize.
“I can’t believe it was that long ago,” he told The Irish Post this week, “It’s gone so quickly.”
It was 25 years ago when Doherty won the 1997 Embassy World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, dethroning one of the game’s greatest players in Stephen Hendry.
Although in good form - having beaten the likes of Steve Davis and John Higgins along the way - Doherty was the underdog with a ruthless and seemingly invincible Hendry aiming for six world titles in a row.
The result, an 18-12 victory in the Dubliner's favour, shook the snooker world.
“It meant so much as Hendry was the King of the Crucible at that time,” Doherty admits.
“And still is in my opinion. To stop him was incredible.”
He added: “When I saw Alex Higgins win the world championship in 1982 and then Dennis Taylor in 1985, I knew then that I wanted to be a professional snooker player and tried to emulate them.
“So, to actually achieve it that year and make a dream come true was just out of this world to me.”
With his win, Doherty became the first player from the Republic of Ireland to prevail at the Crucible and he was given a rapturous welcome home as he was paraded on an open top bus like a messiah through the streets of Dublin on his return home.
The size of the success captured the attention of the entire nation and put a relatively niche sport in the limelight.
“Everybody in Ireland seemed to watch it,” Doherty says.
“The Chief Superintendent told me that I should be on the telly more often as it would make his job a hell of a lot easier.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” he added.
“I was there in 1990 when the football team came back home.
“Them homecomings were usually only for Olympic champions and the national sides.
“I didn’t think snooker would have the same impact but it did.
“It was amazing to come through Dublin with all the cars beeping and people hanging out of windows.
“I’ll never forget the reception in Mansion House and then the bus back to Ranelagh where we had a great party.”
Over two decades on, there has been little cheer for Irish snooker on a similar scale since.
The lack of talent is laid bare in the current rankings, where there is only one Irish player in the world's top 50, namely Mark Allen.
Doherty, who now juggles his time between playing and punditry, believes the closure of snooker halls and the amenities on offer to youngsters today have taken an impact.
He still hopes to qualify for next month's world championship and will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his triumph by hosting a special commemoration at the Crucible in July later this year.
“We’re looking to go back to the Crucible, not to play, but just to talk about the world championship itself and relive some of those moments from the final,” Doherty says. “Hendry won’t enjoy it too much but myself, John Virgo, Dennis Taylor and Hendry will be there,” he laughed.
“There will be some nights in Ireland, too,” he confirmed, “in Tralee, Dublin, Mullingar and Limerick.
“It will be nice to celebrate its anniversary after 25 years."