Mark Selby on ‘horrible’ Joe O’Connor draw at World Snooker Championship

Joe O’Connor is the only debutant in this year’s World Championship draw (Picture: Getty Images)

Mark Selby says Joe O’Connor is the one player he did not want to draw in the opening round of the World Snooker Championship, preferring to avoid playing a friend and practice partner.

O’Connor is the only debutant at this year’s event after coming through a long and tense final qualifying match against Matt Selt.

All eyes were then on the draw and the 28-year-old was handed an extremely tough test in four-time world champion Selby.

Not only is it a seriously difficult match, but it is a personal one, with the two Leicester man going way back to O’Connor’s childhood.

‘Joe is such a nice kid, great player, nice family,’ Selby told the BBC. ‘I’ve known him since he was eight or nine years old, I played in a snooker club and Joe used to come in and play pool.

‘Probably the only person I didn’t want to draw out of the qualifiers. From Leicester, a friend, we practice together sometimes, it’s horrible, you never want to play your friends if you can avoid it.

‘We’ve both got a job to do, we’ll both go out there and play the match for what it is and see who comes out on top.’

MrQ UK Snooker Championship 2023 - Day Seven

Mark Selby was beaten by Luca Brecel in last year’s final (Picture: Getty Images)

When he came through the qualifiers, O’Connor was asked whether it would be a dream or nightmare draw to face Selby, he said: ‘More of a dream I would say but if I had to pick I’d like to play someone like him in the final. But playing like him at any point is a big occasion, two Leicester lads, you can’t really beat it.

‘We’ve been friends right from when I watched him in the final [in 2007]. I used to play pool with him, I’ve followed him and we’ve known each other since then.’

O’Connor told the BBC: ‘He’s the one I’ve looked up to ever since I started playing snooker and probably subconsciously modelled my game around. It’s a dream draw, ideally I’d want him in the final but first round is just as good.’

The debutant was beaten by Selby in the recent Championship League final, while he has also been to the Scottish Open final and he feels ready to take on the Crucible.

‘I feel like I’ve got a complete game, especially if I’m playing alright,’ he said. ‘I’m potting long balls, scoring, I feel like I’ve always got the safety side and mindset to stick in when it’s tough. I think that will give me a good chance in any match in any tournament to be honest.’

Reminded that debutants Jak Jones and Si Jiahui made the quarters and semis respectively last year, O’Connor joked: ‘I’ll be looking for the final then!’

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