Cahair O'Kane: Ronnie O'Sullivan's search for perfection goes on because it has to

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair is a sports reporter and columnist with the Irish News specialising in Gaelic Games.

Ronnie O'Sullivan has won a joint-record seven world titles, the last of which is the focus of a Prime Video documentary being released later this week.
Ronnie O'Sullivan has won a joint-record seven world titles, the last of which is the focus of a Prime Video documentary being released later this week. Ronnie O'Sullivan has won a joint-record seven world titles, the last of which is the focus of a Prime Video documentary being released later this week.

RONNIE O’Sullivan has spent his whole life searching for perfection and a way not to care if he never finds it.

The baize, particularly for his annual trip to Sheffield, has been his open prison.

For 30 years he’s kicked stones around the yard, cursing this damn place, yet the gates swing open every morning and he knows he’s free to leave any time he wants.

But like Brooks Hatlen in The Shawshank Redemption – a film he references in the novel Framed that O’Sullivan penned based on his own life – he’s become institutionalised. Better the misery he knows than the one he doesn’t.

Snooker has been his life. It’s brought him money and fame and love but it’s rarely made him happy.

Perfection doesn’t really exist, but it’s something for him to chase.

If he was winning the World Championship every single year, you can almost hear the Brian Clough in him: ‘But I want to win it better’.

At one stage early on he considered a hip replacement. Not because he needed one but rather the immovability of a metal hip would reduce the last bit of mortal in him and make every shot the exact same. That way he’d never lose.

Except as it turns out, losing isn’t problem. It’s winning.

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This week sees the long-awaited release of The Edge Of Everything, a two-hour Prime Video documentary that follows his journey to the joint-record seventh world title.

Through it, he talks of learning to cope with snooker’s hold over him.

Just last week he pulled out of the Champion of Champions event, a sign that he knows now when to draw back.

But alongside its ability to reflect his mental battle of going from crescendo to crash in an instant, where the show succeeds is in the behind-the-scenes footage questioning that insistence he can cope.

On one hand he tells the world that he doesn’t “give a f***” and can take it or leave it, but the competitor forged in him across four decades has nowhere to hide when the finish line of a World Championship comes into view.

Losing bothers him less than winning does because it’s when he finds his groove that O’Sullivan’s demons begin to crawl out from every crevice of his overworked mind.

The minute that Judd Trump gets among the balls in last May’s final, the doubts thud against the surface.

12-5 becomes 12-8 and he misses a simple red.

“Nervy, nervy” he starts to whisper to himself.

At 13-10, everything is up for questioning.

O’Sullivan ends the session 14-11 up but spends the interval telling his psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters that “I feel like I want to cry…like my eyes are blurring, it’s horrendous… I’m scared.”

He goes out and finishes the job with breaks of 75 and 85.

It’s almost impossible to piece his life together in under two hours.

A cannabis addiction, drinking binges, the self-destructive and self-loathing instincts have all cooled with time.

At 19, he was left to look after his 12-year-old sister because both of his parents were in jail.

His father served 17 years for the murder of Bruce Bryan, a driver for one of the Kray brothers, while his mother did seven months for tax evasion soon after.

As a young lad, Ronnie’s doubles partner Chrissy Brooks was killed in a car accident.

They’d gone up to a tournament together in Birmingham but with Brooks eliminated, O’Sullivan was drawing his match 2-2 and told his friend to sit tight until the final frame was over.

“If I lose, I’m coming back with you,” he said in his first autobiography, Ronnie.

He didn’t lose. Chris got into a car with two other friends. Him and another passenger, Martin Caroline, were killed when they crashed on a bad bend.

That doesn’t make the documentary, and nor do his parents’ faces on camera, although their voiceovers do add to the story.

Derailment for their son would have been entirely forgivable.

It was at 19 that he first threatened publically to quit snooker.

He’d ballooned to 16 stone and was holding up a 37-inch waistband.

Two weeks after his Mum got out of jail, she briefly put him out of the house for a few weeks, embarrassed at the state he’d gotten himself into.

His addictive personality was good for his snooker when that was his addiction.

“On a good day it’s snooker. On a bad day, it’s drugs,” he said in that book.

He fought his way out of that mess.

The moment that his winning break of 85 ends and the seventh title becomes his, the reclusive side of him comes right back to the surface.

Ronnie's head buried in the shoulder of Trump’s waistcoat, his voice breaks and the tears start to flow.

And for more than a minute, he hides in there, afraid to come out until eventually his magnanimous opponent – “Yeah I'll be in it a fair bit with the hug!” Trump said this week - has to tell him to go to his family and celebrate.

“I can’t do this any more. I can’t do it. I can’t. It’ll kill me,” O’Sullivan tells his partner Laila Rouass and his son Ronnie jr as they rush to wrap him back up while the demons flood out through his eyes, beaten for a day but soon to return.

Not doing it any more would probably kill him quicker.

The search for perfection goes on because it has to.

Ronnie O’Sullivan: The Edge of Everything is available exclusively in cinemas across UK & Ireland on November 21 and launches on Prime Video on November 23. Theatrical release includes LIVE Q&A featuring Ronnie and very special guests.