McLeod targets a return to the Crucible

Rory McLeod

Rory McLeod

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Rory McLeod reckons he could be heading back to the Crucible.

Next week, the Wellingborough player goes to Blackpool for the World Senior championship and Snooker Shoot out, both screened live on Sky Sports.

That’s followed by the World championship qualifiers in Sheffield next month.

McLeod hasn’t played at the Crucible since 2011 when he was beaten by John Higgins in the second round, but reckons he’s playing well enough to get there for a third time.

The 43-year-old said: “The plan is to get back to the Crucible and I’m hitting form at the right time and feeling positive.

“I feel I’m as good as anyone.

“The plan has always been to be the world No 1. If that’s not the target, what’s the point in playing ?”

McLeod is currently 52nd in the world rankings following this month’s second-round exit from the Welsh Open to the world No 2.

He was beaten 4-2 by Ronnie O’Sullivan after leading 2-0 and faces another snooker legend next week.

McLeod has been paired with six-time world champion Steve Davis at the World Seniors championship that starts on Monday.

He describes Davis as “an ambassador” for the game. He was the main man when I was young.”

In their only previous match, McLeod was a 5-1 winner in the China Open qualifiers three years ago, but he has less happy memories of playing Nigel Bond in the Snooker Shoot Out.

Bond beat McLeod on the way to winning the trophy in 2011 and they meet again in the first round of this year’s competition on Wednesday.

McLeod has been one of the stars of the whirlwind tournament where every match consists of one 10-minute frame and players can take only 10 seconds over every shot.

His last-gasp black to beat Tony Drago in 2011 has had almost 47,000 views on YouTube.

The black ball ricocheted off three cushions before dropping into the corner pocket, but McLeod insists it wasn’t a hit-and-hope fluke.

He laughed: “How can it be a fluke when I wanted to put the black ball in a pocket? That’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I did.

“The Snooker Shoot out is a bit of a lottery, though. Anything can happen and you have to just go out there, play your game and hope for the best.”

McLeod is currently living in Leicester – he occasionally practices with world champion Mark Selby – after a spell training the national team in Qatar, but describes himself as “Wellingborough born and bred.”

He started playing snooker at the Embassy club in the town, since demolished, when he was 13 years old and took the game more seriously after his football ambitions were dented.

McLeod says “football was my passion” and was a star striker for Westfield Boys School when he was a teenager.

“We didn’t lose a game for five years,” he remembered.

“We beat everyone 10-0 and 12-0 and I was the centre forward getting a lot of the goals.

“We reached the England Schools final but because I didn’t bother going to athletics training, the teacher dropped me from the team – and we lost.

“That was the only game we lost when I was there.

“I don’t send that teacher any Christmas cards!

“That’s what made me go and play snooker more seriously. I was inside in the warm hitting balls and it’s all down to me.”.