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[Pool] Tornado Heading Back for Malta

Unknown Monday, December 22, 2008 , , ,
Far too often, the term hero is wasted on undeserving recipients. None more so than in the world of sport where it is the description that tends trotted out at the merest hint of a positive result.

However, if there is an athlete whose longevity and continued success make him worthy of such a title then it surely is Tony Drago. Consistently ranked among the world’s top snooker players, Drago had the belief and courage to move abroad in order to prove his worth at his sport.

In that respect Drago was the trendsetter, the man who would inspire a generation of athletes and show them that it was possible for a Maltese to prosper abroad in sport. And he truly did prosper, as his exceptionally fast style of play earned him the nickname of ‘tornado’ and a reputation for high scoring breaks.

He was also quite temperamental, a flaw which he himself admits, but this helped endear him to the growing public of snooker enthusiasts, drawn towards the game after its adoption by television.

That all this talk is in the past tense would suggest that Drago’s best days are behind him, that his sporting career is at the end.

And, to a degree it is. Drago is currently off the main snooker circuit, having dropped off the list of the world’s top ranked players. Yet Drago is anything but a spent force. Instead, what he has been doing is dedicate more attention to another cue sport, that of pool.

Earlier this year he won the Predator International 10 Ball championship, a success that confirmed his status as one of the world’s elite pool players whilst adding to his lengthy list of personal triumphs.

“I was playing pool even when I was ranked among the top sixteen snooker players,” he is eager to point out, dispelling the growing myth that his recent interest in the game is purely down to his relative lack of success in snooker. “There are those who seem to think that I’m playing pool because I’m no longer ranked that highly in snooker but that is not true. I’ve been playing pool for a very long time so it is certainly nothing new for me.”

For the uninitiated, the two games appear the same: both are played on tables with cues and balls. Yet there are some major differences such as the size of the table which is smaller in pool than in snooker meaning that the former is played at a much faster pace.

The two games also have different fan bases. Whereas snooker is the favoured option in Europe, pool is the most popular alternative in America.

From a player’s perspective, the differences are quite marked. “The two games are completely different,” Drago confirms. “The pool table is easier to play on whilst the equipment is larger. When I’m playing snooker more frequently I find it quite easy to switch to pool but, on the other hand when I’m playing a lot of pool I tend to find it that little bit harder to switch.”

As a game, however, it is certainly evolving. “In Europe you have some of the world’s most important players such as Darren Appleton. The Americans have perhaps ten good players, five of which you’ll see in Malta soon.”

“The real hot-bed seems to be the east. There are a number of good Asian player coming through and the interest there seems to be growing rapidly.”

“Hopefully it will also take off in Malta thanks to the Mosconi Cup. It is definitely a good introduction.”

That is something of an understatement. Undeniably one of the best tournaments in the world of pool, the Mosconi Cup is a tournament that pits America’s top pool players against their European counterparts much like the Ryder Cup in golf.

Europe won the last time round, the third time in the competition’s fourteen year history. A significant chunk of that success was down to Tony Drago’s efforts so much that he was voted the tournament’s most valuable player.

“Winning the Mosconi Cup was undoubtedly one of the biggest achievements in my career. It certainly ranks on par with anything that I ever achieved in snooker.”

“As far as pressure goes, it doesn’t get any harder than this. Normally if you win a game you’re satisfied but if you lose the only one who is let down is yourself. In the Mosconi Cup it is different because you know that there are four other players depending on you, not to mention the hopes of the continent.”

That the next edition of the Mosconi Cup is due to be held in Malta should notch up the pressure on Drago. After all, in the past it has often been hinted that he found it difficult to handle the expectations facing him whenever playing in Malta.

If that was ever the case, Drago is adamant that it won’t be this time. “The pressure of the Mosconi Cup is completely different,” he repeats. “You don’t have time to think about the spectators. The pressure that we will be feeling in Malta is that of wanting to retain our trophy.”

Even so, it will help to know that most of those watching will be willing his team on hoping that they finally see their hero win a tournament on home soil. Drago certainly seems in confident mood.

“I think that we will be even more competitive then last year. The Americans have a good share of top players even tough they might make a couple of changes,” he says.

All this talk about the Mosconi Cup and the game of pool seems to hint that he’s packing it in from snooker

Yet that couldn’t be any farther away from the truth. “I still adore playing snooker. It is what made me into the man that I am today and opened my door to so many opportunities. I will keep on playing until I can see and can hold a cue in my hands. I cannot see myself any different. I’m confident in my abilities and I’m certain that I’ll win back my place among the world’s best players. Snooker is my game and I’ll never abandon it.”
This article was published in the December 2008 issue of Sunday Circle magazine.

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Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer