Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards: Legend Dennis Taylor honoured to enter our Hall of Fame

By Steven Beacom

It may have been 32 years ago, but virtually every day someone will speak to Dennis Taylor about that iconic black ball finish against Steve Davis.

You know the one - 1985 World Championship final at the Crucible, with the score 17 frames each, ashen-faced Davis missing a chance he would normally take and Taylor coming to the table to sink the pot that would win him the biggest title in snooker. Cue above his head in celebration, finger wagging and 18.5 million people glued to their television screens well after midnight.

It remains one of sport's most thrilling, nail-biting and magical moments and one that Dennis never tires speaking about. Just as well.

Taylor is a Northern Ireland sporting great and while that victory is the stand-out memory of his playing career, he also enjoyed other notable successes, not least another stunning comeback victory against compatriot Alex Higgins in the 1987 Masters. He is now a revered commentator for the BBC and throughout it all has been a tremendous ambassador for this country.

Little wonder then that so many people were delighted to see him inducted into the Hall of Fame at last night's Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.

And all this from a fascination as a youngster growing up in Coalisland with a game he will forever be associated with.

"I was only eight or nine and I walked past the snooker club, someone had opened the door and I saw these coloured balls whizzing around on a green cloth table," the 68-year-old recalled.

"I had no idea what the game was and it just fascinated me. I thought I would love to see what was going on so they let me in to watch the grown-ups play. I would hold the rest and if anyone needed it I would hand it to them. Eventually they let me stand on a lemonade box to take shots and that was my introduction into snooker."

Practising when he could, Taylor became adept at snooker and billiards. By the time he was 14, he was the best at both in his home town. Leaving school at 15, he moved to England when he was 17, won the junior British Billiards Championship the following year and turned snooker professional in 1972.

Slowly but surely, Taylor established himself in the game and reached his first World Championship final against Welshman Terry Griffiths in 1979.

"I played well that year and was favourite to win the final, but didn't do it. It was a bitter pill to swallow," said Taylor.

"I had to wait six years to play in another World Championship final."

It proved to be worth the wait. A few months previously, Taylor had won his first big tournament - the Grand Prix at the Hexagon - inspired by the memory of his mum Annie, who had died suddenly weeks before.

Next would come the most talked about World Championship decider ever.

"I played superbly throughout that tournament in 1985 but in the final when I went 8-0 down to Steve Davis, I don't think anybody gave me much hope. Throughout it all, though, I never gave up and by the end of day one I was only 9-7 down," he said.

"On the second day of the final it went to the final frame and the final black. Steve had a great opportunity to cut it in and I don't think anyone thought he would miss. The pressure was so intense. He overcompensated and hit it too thin.

"The one that was left for me was easier. I took ages on that shot. When the black went in it is hard to describe how I felt. I had spent 13 years trying to become World champion and suddenly had done it and the way I had done it was incredible. I was stamping the cue as well as putting it over my head. You just don't know how you will react in a situation like that.

"To this day people seem to remember that match more than any other. There is always someone who will say to me about that night.

"There was a great moment once when I was picking my son up from Manchester airport at around 5.30am. I'm stood half asleep at my car waiting for him and this fellow was getting his family in their car and he shouted my name. He had his glasses upside down, an imaginary cue over his head and he was wagging his finger at me. I thought if somebody is prepared to do that at half five in the morning, that will do for me.

"I don't think I realised how much it meant to people until the years passed by. Steve is fantastic about it. He says he will remember our match more than the six World titles he won. The two of us do the odd dinner and speak together and re-enact the final frame which is a bit of a mickey take. It is part of snooker history.

"The three best moments in my career were the World Championship, the Grand Prix for my first major win and the Masters when I beat Alex in the Benson and Hedges in front of 2,700 people at the Wembley Conference Centre.

"I was 8-5 down and went to the toilet. My good friend Trevor East had heard Alex's manager saying he was getting a dozen bottles of champagne to celebrate Alex winning his first tournament for two years.

"That was just the spur that I needed. I went back into the arena and was thinking Alex's manager was a bit ahead of himself and won the last four frames to win 9-8. The atmosphere was unbelievable that night. To win that final was very special."

Dennis retired from the professional scene in 2000, having played across four decades.

He added: "I like to think I went out in real style playing in the Nations Cup for Northern Ireland. We were playing Scotland and my last two televised matches were against Stephen Hendry and John Higgins.

"I beat Stephen on the pink and then against John Higgins I broke off and he made his first ever maximum break, so it was a good way to go out.

"I've had a great time and now to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards is fantastic. To follow in the footsteps of so many sporting legends and great ambassadors for Northern Ireland is a wonderful honour."

Belfast Telegraph

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