|Betway UK Championship|
|Venue: York Barbican Dates: 27 November-9 December|
|Coverage: Watch live across BBC Two, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button, Connected TV, the BBC Sport website and mobile app from 1 December.|
Martin O’Donnell has a previous life mixing with the elite.
Now, after years of trying, the 32-year-old world number 59 is hoping to break onto snooker’s top table.
Four wins in the UK Championship and a quarter-final date with Ronnie O’Sullivan is a good way to start the journey.
O’Donnell used to be an assistant professional at the exclusive Royal Automobile Club (RAC) in London.
“I worked there for five years when I was 20 – looking after and cleaning tables, coaching members and running some tournaments,” O’Donnell said. “It was a great job and served a massive purpose to me.”
Had it not been for snooker’s recent growth, there is a fair chance he would still be there instead of taking on the “greatest player the sport has ever seen”.
The Londoner’s shock 6-4 victory over 13-time ranking event winner Ding Junhui in the last 16 was good preparation for facing the defending champion and six-time tournament winner.
But continuing his pro career has not been straightforward.
He has twice dropped off the snooker tour, most recently having to win back his place through Q School in 2017.
“It will be a privilege to play Ronnie,” O’Donnell said. “I will take the game to him and see what happens. Even the top players seem to struggle to play their game against him. He has that aura. But I will focus on me.
“That will be the challenge, not to look over at him in his seat or worry about what he’s doing. I’ve got to stay calm, be patient, be aggressive and see what happens.
“I have sat in many venues watching Ronnie and cheering him on. I’d imagine the crowd will be pretty hostile and one-sided. But crowds like a battle so hopefully I can stand up and produce that.”
While recognising he could end up getting whitewashed, O’Donnell said he is not turning up ready to be the next stage in the O’Sullivan procession.
“You don’t graft every day to get to last-16s and quarter-finals of tournaments,” said O’Donnell.
“You believe that when you get your chance you can take it. But he could beat me 6-0 and it has still been a good tournament.”
The 6-4 victory over Ding was his fourth against a Chinese opponent at this year’s event.
It was the “biggest of his career” but despite the shock value, it did not come as a total surprise to O’Donnell.
A combination of maturing, discovering his game and pure hard work have led to a huge improvement.
‘I try to kill the game in one visit’
Until this season he had not played in the last 16 of a ranking event. And he had never before won a match in five previous appearances at the UK Championship.
But the York run is his third time in a ranking event quarter-final, having reached the same stage of the China Championship and International Championship.
“I have probably been guilty of trying too hard here in the past,” O’Donnell said.
“With the season I have been having, I have learned to relax a little bit more and have started to find my game. I have more confidence and belief on the table.
“I am being a lot more aggressive. I have realised that because I have a half-decent tactical game I have always relied on that. I have worked really hard on my attacking play, to not tread water and to go for it.
“When I get in now I try to kill the game in one visit. Once you have that intent in your game it is amazing what you can achieve.”
He feels his late development is perfectly timed.
“More players are flourishing in their 30s now,” said O’Donnell, who is coached by former top-16 player Ian McCulloch.
“But Ronnie, Mark Williams and John Higgins are so much better than everyone else. They are absolute legends of the game and that is why they are still at the top.
“I don’t think you will see the like of them again. They were, and still are, exceptional.
“But I am playing the long game. I am still improving so in five years’ time I might be at my prime and they might be retiring.”
In the meantime, the £22,500 he has earned from his UK Championship run so far – his biggest career pay day to date – could fund a membership at the RAC.
If he beats O’Sullivan, that figure rises to £35,000. O’Donnell could definitely afford to return in a non-table-cleaning role then.
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