Is there any sport the Hearn family can’t transform? December is fast becoming a homage to Barry and Eddie’s sprawling dynasty, with snooker, darts, and this week, 9-ball pool taking centre stage.
This year marks 25 years since the Mosconi Cup began in earnest at the Roller Bowl in Romford. The competition is 9-ball pool’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup, with Team USA taking on Team Europe.
The first ever afternoon session saw just 28 people attend, and that’s including Barry himself. Fast forward a quarter of a century, and there’s 2,500 crammed into Alexandra Palace to watch the action unfold, and boy were they in for a treat.
It’s the perfect marriage of atmosphere and action, they feed off one another. The crowd get the players going, and the players respond in kind. With a 30-second shot clock, and a best of nine format, the banks, jump shots and scratches are in constant supply.
Barry pulls out every trick in the book to build the atmosphere, a book he probably wrote himself. The beer is flowing, the music is blaring, this is party pool, far away from the serene surroundings of The Barbican, where every murmur is met with discontent.Embed from Getty Images
No one sums up the scene more than Jayson Shaw, the Scottish representative in Team Europe. The Tartan Spartan, as he has probably never been called, is up for it. Big time up for it.
Shaw takes to the table on day four, having just seen teammate Albin Ouschan defeated by tournament MVP Skyler Woodward in a cagey opening game. Three days of domination sees the Americans with a 10-6 lead, with the first to 11 claiming victory, it’s boom or bust from here on in.
There is more than just the victory at stake here, there is also the European’s reputation; the Blues haven’t surrendered the title since 2009. If Woodward’s jump shot to gain control of the deciding rack against Ouschan silenced the partisan home following, the arrival of Shaw has done exactly the opposite.
Ever the showman, the Scot plays to the crowd, urging them to make some noise. These sorts of characters have been the lynchpin to the Hearns’ success in their various sporting escapades over the years, the ones who get the punters going, and Shaw does it with aplomb.
You never felt like he would ever lose his match with Tyler Styer, he thrives off of these moments. The tension, the passion, that’s his meat and drink. As he sinks the final nine ball to claim a 5-3 victory, the place erupts. The high fives are flying around the blue side of the arena, they may still be three points behind, but Europe believes again.Embed from Getty Images
If Shaw is the chalk then Niels Feijen is definitely the cheese. While the Scot is now in the crowd leading a chorus of ‘Hey Jude’, The Terminator is the coolest man around as he sweeps aside Corey Deuel 5-1, and the American nerves start to show.
The ease with which all the players make shots is unnerving, the technique, the precision, every time without fail positioning the ball on a sixpence. None more so than 19 year old Eklent Kaci. The Albanian ramps up the pressure on the Americans and the atmosphere in the Ally Pally with another scintillating European display to defeat Billy Thorpe 5-2.
It’s 10-9. The high fives have turned into hugs, the crowd believes, they’re building up a head of steam.
Europe couldn’t win this, could they?
Could they have their own miracle of Medinah moment?
When Shane van Boening woke up on the final day of the Mosconi Cup he probably wasn’t expecting to even play. Even more so after Woodward claimed the first point of the evening. But if there were ever a man for the occasion, the five time US Open winner is he.
There’s no man more determined than van Boening to secure victory, playing in his twelfth tournament, he has only raised the trophy once when part of that 2009 team.Embed from Getty Images
He’s been around the block, he doesn’t feel nerves. 2-0, 3-1, 4-1, he keeps Alex Kazakis at arm’s length throughout, even when Kazakis closes the gap the writing is on the wall. They had fought back valiantly, but defeat for the Europeans was now all but inevitable.
He cuts the last rack short, sinking a 1-9 combo to seal the victory for the Americans. The confetti comes out, they’re dancing on the table, you don’t see these scenes everyday, it’s unbridled joy.
Even defeated, the mainly European crowd are still in high spirits, serenading Shaw and Feijen with song after song, who are more than happy to join in. In some sports the protagonists are somewhat untouchable, but here they couldn’t be more approachable, which adds to the appeal of the whole event.
Another feather in the cap of Barry Hearn, the champion of championing the forgotten sports.
Here’s to 25 more years of a truly underrated event. The Mosconi Cup.