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Snooker: Joining the Dott

FOR now, Graeme Dott must simply bear the misfortune of being snooker's 17th man.

Graeme Dott has his eye on coaching to help the players of the future                           Photograph: SNS
Graeme Dott has his eye on coaching to help the players of the future Photograph: SNS

With all players outside the top 16 in world snooker's table of rankings points having to qualify for the World Championship, the Scot is condemned to play a round in the purgatory of Ponds Forge, Sheffield, before being permitted to cross the road to the promised land of the Crucible Theatre.

But things aren't all bad: the only other time the 36-year-old from Larkhall was forced to pre-qualify in recent times was in 2010, when he surprised many by making it all the way to the final, eventually going down 18-13 to Australia's Neil Robertson as he so nearly added to his title won in 2006.

"This is only the second time in about the last 20 years I have had to pre-qualify and it is not an enjoyable match to play in," Dott said ahead of his Dafabet World Champ-ionship final-round meeting with either Kyren Wilson or Alfie Burden on Tuesday. "There is probably more pressure on the players there than when you are actually at the Crucible, a bit like the Champions League qualifiers must be in football. There is just way too much at stake, it is a horrible feeling and it is hard to bear."

Further room for good cheer resides in the fact that Dott has a happy habit of reserving his best snooker for the World Championship. In Barry Hearn's reshaped global season, he has reached a couple of semi-finals and the quarter- finals in his last two outings. However, he is clearly in a different tranche of contenders to favourite and returning hero Ronnie O'Sullivan, Chinese phenomenon and money leader Ding Junhui, and the leaders of the chasing pack such as Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy and Robertson.

"Snooker has never been as tough as it is just now," he said. "There's players nobody has heard of who are knocking in 100 breaks in a frame. Ronnie is definitely the clear favourite with the way he has been playing, but you could have five picks and not select the winner. The Crucible Theatre is where everyone wants to play, it is one of my favourite tournaments and I just need to qualify to be involved in it. If I can get on a run I have definitely got a wee chance. There's players who have never won the worlds or never done that well in it, but I am the opposite; when it comes to the worlds I usually do quite well.

"Winning the title in 2006 was a surprise to everyone probably, although amazingly I never felt I played that well. I probably played better all the way through the tournament the year I finished runner-up in 2010, and as amazing as it sounds, it was also probably more enjoyable that year than the year I won it."

Even in the throes of that heady victory in 2006, Dott was battling clinical depression, but he now seems comfortable in his own skin. From next season, in addition to playing on the tour, he feels he can be gainfully employed passing on hints and tips to the next generation and is embarking on a coaching career both for young players and aspiring professionals, based out of his home.

This is no passing fancy. Dott fears Scottish snooker's golden generation may be followed by a drought, with young players hoovered up by other more glamorous sports, and with China - where the sport is taught in schools - set to become dominant. He plans to do something about it and rails against the lack of foresight which saw a snooker academy being built in Sheffield rather than the home of Stephen Hendry and John Higgins.

"I've not started the coaching yet but I will soon. All I have ever done is snooker so it would be good to pass that on to some of the young players, and who knows, maybe some pros as well," said Dott, whose children Lewis, 9, and Lucy, 5, are showing little inclination to play the game. "The conveyor belt in Scotland is certainly slowing up. There is a snooker academy in Sheffield and when you think how well Scotland have done, it could certainly have benefited from having an academy. That would have kept the momentum, kept good players coming through rather than seeing it slowing down so dramatically.

"Maybe it was snobbery, or maybe they thought snooker was doing fine without any money, but they are in danger of missing the boat now. There is going to come a time where China is going to dominate. Nobody is doing anything."

Snooker tends to be a young man's sport, as Steve Davis - a faller at qualifying this week - will testify, and Dott will devote himself to coaching full time when he feels he can no longer be competitive. But for now he feels re-energised by Hearn's global, year-long calendar.

"We are playing all the time now," he said, "whereas before Barry Hearn came in I think we had about six tournaments. The World Champ- ionships finished in May, then we didn't start playing again until October. We are playing all year round so there is more chance of earning money, although you are also outlaying more because they are here, there and everywhere."

Dott memorably paraded his World Championship trophy around Ibrox, a further reason for him to feel things are not what they used to be.

"I am still there, still a season ticket holder," he said. "Obviously it is hard to take watching the team just now in comparison with the one we watched a number of years ago but we just need to batter through it and it will eventually change."

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