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Ronnie O'Sullivan says the Northern Ireland Open reignited his passion for snooker and convinced him he won’t hang up his cue before he turns 60, writes Will Jennings.
The Rocket, 44, went down 9-7 against two-time defending champion Judd Trump in the final as the world No.1 became the first player to win the same ranking event for three years running since Stephen Hendry in 1996.
O’Sullivan has now lost the last three finals against Trump – by the same scoreline – but reckons a newfound love for his ‘hobby’ will extend his longevity on the baize.
The world No.2 said: “I’m not disappointed – I’ve had a great week, had a fantastic time, played some great snooker and enjoyed it. I would have taken a quarter-final all day long.
“I just play it for a hobby now and I don’t do it for a living. If I had to play this game for a living I’d be miserable as hell. Now I just do it for fun which is why I’ve always liked doing it.
“I do my business off the table and I come here and it doesn’t matter if I win, doesn’t matter if I lose.
“For a few years I’ve been building into it and now things are really good. I play snooker because I want to play it, which is a nice place to be. I want to play for fun and I love the game. I love it and if I lose first round every match it wouldn’t make a difference to me.
“I think I can play till 60 now the way things are going! If I’m fit and healthy – I might not be on the tour but I’ll be on the exhibitions and be like Jimmy [White], because I love playing.
“I just didn’t enjoy playing on this circuit because it was hard graft but now that’s taken care of, it’s become more like a hobby like I’m ten years old again. I wish I could have enjoyed it like this in my prime.”
19-time ranking event winner Trump raced into a 5-3 lead at the interval but a roaring comeback from the Rocket teed up a nervy finale in Milton Keynes.
Trump struck visits of 128, 69 and 55 before the break but a characteristically defiant O’Sullivan, fuelled by four half-century breaks, hauled himself back into contention.
But the gutsy Trump, who has now won 11 of his last 12 ranking event finals, showed nerves of steel to make a rock-solid 89 in the 16th frame and edge him over the line.
Trump has now beaten 37-time major winner O’Sullivan in eight of the 11 finals they’ve met in and boasts a 14-13 lead over the Rocket in overall matches.
O’Sullivan thrives off duking it out with the best and fancies another bout with a top player when he shoots for an eighth UK Championship title next week.
“It’s great to play great players when you’re both playing well – it’s lovely and it pushes you on,” added O’Sullivan, who takes on Leo Fernandez in his first round match on Wednesday.
“I’d like to be here in another two weeks’ time playing in the UK final against Judd but if it’s Ding [Junhui], I’m sure he’s going to be tough to beat.
“I’ve had to play well this week and they’re all tough games – you have to just play your game.”