INTELLIGENT, unassuming and incredibly talented on the baize, Ardara teenager Ronan Whyte is determined to make his mark on the world snooker stage.
Ronan (17) travels to the Ivy Rooms in Carlow this weekend to contest the first of four qualifiers for the World U18 and U21 Championships in China this summer.
Next month he’s off to Sofia, Bulgaria to take part in the 2018 European Individual Snooker U18 and U21 Men Championships.
Although only ranked 3 in Ireland at the moment, the teenager has set his sights on playing in and even challenging for snooker’s biggest prizes.
Ronan is no stranger to big competitions having represented Ireland at the World U18 Championships in Beijing last summer.
The Ardara man, who plays out of North West Snooker Club in Letterkenny, will be one of four Irish players who will compete at the Europeans which start on February 2.
A talented under-age GAA player, the snooker bug bit for Ronan when his parents Gerry and Evelyn first brought a pool table into their Cloughboy home five years ago.
It signalled the start of regular battles between the then twelve-year-old Ronan and his older brother Conor with younger brother Shane also getting in on the act.
It wasn’t long before Ronan transferred his skill-set to a full-sized table and he became a member of the North West Snooker Club in Letterkenny – winning the first tournament he entered.
The routine was soon set in stone: arrive home from school, have a bite to eat and then practise for a few hours. Weekends just meant more time for snooker and the 35-mile commute to Letterkenny and games in the North West Premier Snooker League.
Ronan completed his Leaving Cert examinations at St Columba’s Comprehensive School in Glenties last year and he currently works in Hugh Gerard Maloney’s shop in Ardara.
This week he travelled to Southend to practise with world number 98 Allan Taylor. Known as the Albino Assassin, Taylor has been mentoring Ronan these past few years.
What’s remarkable talking to Ronan is how level-headed he is. His highest break is 117.
He recorded it a few months ago at the NW Snooker Club in a league match while he clocked up 113 in practice in what he described as just another frame.
The ultimate dream is to become the first Donegal man to play at the Crucible.
“That’s still the dream,” he smiled.
The European Championship offers a ticket to the pro game while he’s also looking at going to Q School.
First up though is this weekend’s first round qualifiers for the World U18 and U21 Championships in China before his attention switches to Sofia and the European finals.
“I’m quietly confident about the Europeans. If I can hit a bit of form I’ll cause damage,” he said.
Like most sports, luck will have a part to play too and much will depend on the draw which will be made inside the next two weeks.
“I’m playing well enough. It’s just a matter of seeing who I draw,” he added.
A member of the Irish U18 team for the forthcoming European Individual Snooker Championships, he’s also hopeful that he’ll be selected as part of the U21 team too.
“I finished third in the last U18 tournament before Christmas and fifth in the U21s but, hopefully, I’ll get the call to play in both,” he said.
The World U18 Championships in China last summer was Ronan’s first real taste of International competition and it has whetted his appetite.
“It was a whole new experience for me – playing against the top players in a new environment. I’m trying to get as much experience as possible.
“I missed out on the Europeans last year and that really drove me on to quality this time around. I’m going over to Allan Taylor this week to practice. It will be five days of good preparation for me,” he said.
“The aim is to keep progressing and keep improving. The ultimate aim is to play the sport at a professional level. It won’t be easy but I’ll keep pushing forward,” he added.
There are still a few branches of the snooker tree to climb and whatever route Ronan takes from here, it’ll be a busy one.
“I’m still looking at going to Q School this year while there’s also an option to play the Challenge Tour. I’m still young and I’m still learning,” he said.
Whatever route he does take, he’ll continue to use the same cue that’s he’s had these past five years.
“It’s the first proper cue I bought and I’ve no plan to change it. It’s a two-piece cue that I bought in the club in Letterkenny. I picked it up and like the feel of it and I’ve been using it since. I had some work done to it before I went to China – making it a bit longer – as I’m taller now but otherwise it’s the same cue I bought for about €100 when I was twelve or thirteen,” he said.
Ronan’s parents will take him to Carlow this weekend while they’re also looking at going to Sofia.
“Mum and dad have been great. They’ve supported me along the way and they’ve always been there for me. I’m so lucky,” he said.
Securing ranking points for the 2018 World U18 and U21 Championships in Carlow would be another welcome boost for the Ardara potter with more tournaments just around the corner.
The young teenager from Cloughboy is going places.
Letterkenny’s Sean Devenney and Ronan Whyte, Ardara, are both members of the North West Snooker Club in Letterkenny.
Aidan will travel to China with his son in July. Whether they go as National champions only time will...