Martin O’Donnell marked his return to the World Snooker Tour by qualifying for the second stage of the BetVictor Championship League at the Morningside Arena in Leicester on Tuesday.
O’Donnell, 37, was relegated from the professional circuit at the end of the 2021/22 season but earned a new two-year card by topping the Q Tour rankings earlier this year.
He opened his account in Group 11 with a 3-0 defeat of Cork’s Aaron Hill, completed with breaks of 61 and 93. O’Donnell trailed Iranian Hossein Vafaei 1-0 in his second match but potted an excellent long black to win frame two and made an 85 break in the third before the Iranian salvaged a draw.
That left O’Donnell on four points and safe in the knowledge that victory over Northern Irish amateur Fergal Quinn would guarantee him top spot in the group.
With O’Donnell leading 2-1, a nervy fourth frame came down to the colours. Quinn attempted a long blue but missed and O’Donnell potted blue and pink for victory.
“I wasn’t sure how I was going to go today but I was excited to be back on the tour and it was a good day’s work,” he said.
O’Donnell developed a reputation for being one of the tour’s more methodical players, even acquiring the nickname ‘Minister of Defence,’ but has vowed not to get so bogged down in future.
“I just want to enjoy my snooker,” he said. “When I fell off the tour I wasn’t enjoying it and everything was a pint of blood. I can’t play snooker like that, I don’t want to play snooker like that and I’m not going to play snooker like that anymore.
“It doesn’t mean I won’t try out there, but the year off has given me a bit of perspective.”
Vafaei ranked 18 in the world, was the top seed in the group but suffered a shock 3-1 defeat to Quinn in his opening match. However, he ended on a high by beating Hill 3-1, with a 120 break in the last frame, to finish in second place.
Chris Wakelin, who won the Shootout title at the Morningside Arena last season, was confirmed as the winner of Group 21 before playing his last match.
Wakelin, the world no.31, hit the ground running, compiling breaks of 60 and 85 on the way to a 3-0 victory over Liam Pullen, a 17 year-old making his professional debut having qualified through Q School last month.
Wakelin encountered more stubborn opposition in his second match against Ukraine’s Anton Kazakov. The average frame time was 39 minutes but Wakelin ground out a 3-1 victory to maintain his 100% record.
It meant he could not be caught at the top of the table. Oliver Lines beat him 3-0 in the last match of the day to finish second.
O’Donnell and Wakelin will return to Leicester next month for the second stage, with the field reduced to 32 players.
The Championship League is the first ranking event of the new season and was won last year by Luca Brecel, who went on to be crowned world champion.
The tournament takes place over three stages, starting on Tuesday, 26 June. Winners’ Week will run from Monday 17, July concluding with Finals Day on Friday, 21 July. The eventual winner will also receive an invite into the 2023 Champion of Champions this November 13 to November 19 alongside the £20,000 first-place prize.
Both Tables 1 and 2 will be broadcast around the world with Table 1 available on Viaplay Extra in the UK. Fans in Scandinavia, Baltics, Netherlands, and Poland will be be able to watch on Viaplay. See where to watch in your country here. The tournament will also be live on betting websites around the world, as well as on global OTT platforms and Matchroom.Live.
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