IT WAS eight minutes past midnight when Aldershot hotshot Ryan Mears clinched his fourth tournament win on a regional snooker circuit since suffering a mental breakdown.
The 28-year-old kept his energy level up with a diet of doughnuts and chocolate bars during a 13-and-a-half-hour day at Top Spot Snooker Club, Havant.
Mears pocketed £200 prize money after overcoming ex-professional Mike Talmondt 2-0 in the final of the third leg of the Cuestars South of England Championship Tour.
He broke the back of the first frame with a run of 38 but it was 20 minutes later before his opponent from Portsmouth finally conceded after a titanic safety battle.
And he wrapped up the next with a break of 49.
It came four days (or, more accurately, three days) before his 29th birthday.
Mears returned to the Cuestars circuit three years ago following a mental breakdown caused by having his anti-depression medication reduced too quickly.
“It was a very long day,” said the new rankings leader.
“Normally I can’t hold it together that long. I felt really relaxed after the group stages and I felt like I had a lot of energy. But normally I don’t.
“I had a few doughnuts and a few chocolate bars to keep me going.”
Mears, who was runner-up in the first leg in Swindon, made a last-16 exit in Chandler’s Ford last month.
“I thought I’d let it slip away,” he admitted. “It took me about a week to get over that one.
“But that’s the lesson I’ve learnt. That one, I did run out of energy. My mental energy just crashed.
“I’m just so pleased that I didn’t let up from the last-16 (in Havant).”
Mears, who is based at Farnborough’s Sovereign Snooker Club, has a 16-point lead over beaten semi-finalist Mark Lloyd (Gosport). Paul Bunyard (Aldershot) and Mike Finn (Eastleigh), the previous leg winners, are joint third.
The massive 48-strong field for the event sponsored by the host club returned 47 breaks of 50 or more, including four centuries.
Paul Norris recorded the day’s highest of 118, and an 86, in a 2-1 group-stage victory over Talmondt. But it was the Londoner’s only win on his first Cuestars outing.
Seb Worrall (Swindon) made a 111 in his last-16 win over another Cuestars debutant, Simon Dent (Shoreham-by-Sea). In the group stages, Matt Ford (Bracknell) made a 103 and former English Under-18 Champion Lloyd contributed a 100.
Oliver Sykes, 11, appearing in his first semi-final, lost 2-1 to Talmondt while Mears overcame Lloyd by the same score to reach the final.
Salisbury Snooker Club hosts the fourth leg of eight on Sunday, December 10.
In hindsight, following a suggestion from one of the players, Cuestars admits it should have run 12 groups of four instead of eight groups of six on this unprecedented occasion. That would have reduced the number of group matches from 120 to 72.
Paul Norris: 118, 86.
Seb Worrall: 111, 90, 90, 76, 61, 61.
Matt Ford: 103, 61.
Mark Lloyd: 100, 54, 54, 50.
Paul Bunyard: 94, 69.
Mike Finn: 84, 52.
Mike Talmondt: 81, 75.
Labeeb Ahmed: 80, 51.
Ryan Mears: 79, 74, 70, 68, 64, 59, 50.
George Heatley: 73.
Simon Dent: 71.
Callum Lloyd: 70, 60.
Adam Nash: 69, 60, 55.
Anthony Rice: 69.
Jamie Wilson: 67, 62.
Olly Gibbs: 63.
Pete Ferguson: 56.
James Cullen: 55, 52.
Oliver Sykes: 54, 50.
Ronnie Blake: 52.
James Budd: 50.
ROUND-ROBIN GROUP POSITIONS
GROUP A: 1st, Olly Gibbs (Chandlers Ford SC); 2nd, Craig Marsh (Crucible, Newbury); 3rd, David Rice (Salisbury SC); 4th, George Heatley (Woking SC); 5th, Pat Patel (Crucible, Newbury); 6th, Ray Mears (Sovereign, Farnborough).
GROUP B: 1st, Matt Ford (Sunninghill Comrades Club); 2nd, Mike Talmondt (Copnor Snooker Club); 3rd, Adam Nash (Churchills, Eastleigh); 4th, Christian Chislett (Selsey RBL, Chichester); 5th, Henry Eastwood (Frames, Coulsdon); 6th, Paul Norris (London).
GROUP C: 1st, Simon Dent (Castle SC, Brighton); 2nd, Connor Benzey (Chandlers Ford SC); 3rd, James Budd (Fareham SC); 4th, Arron Smith (Selsey RBL); 5th, Steven Hughes (Chandlers Ford SC); 6th, Chloe White (Waterlooville Sports Bar).
GROUP D: 1st, Ryan Mears (Sovereign, Farnborough); 2nd, Seb Worrall (Jesters, Swindon); 3rd, Ronnie Blake (Frames, Coulsdon); 4th, Mike Finn (Churchills, Eastleigh); 5th, Dan Sykes (Chandlers Ford SC); 6th, Ronnie Sullivan (Frames, Coulsdon).
GROUP E: 1st, Martin Wallace (Crowthorne RBL); 2nd, Mickey Joyce (Academy, Basingstoke); 3rd, Ryan Hughes (Chandlers Ford SC); 4th, Lewis Miles (Jesters, Swindon); 5th, Lewys Smith (Wexa Sports, Newport); 6th, Richard Clark (Jesters, Swindon).
GROUP F: 1st, James Cullen (Woking SC); 2nd, Oliver Sykes (Chandlers Ford SC); 3rd, Charlie Pringle (Chandlers Ford SC); 4th, Elliott Weston (Top Spot, Havant); 5th, Ally Pollard (Salisbury SC); 6th, Riccardo Drayton (Chandlers Ford SC).
GROUP G: 1st, Anthony Rice (Salisbury SC); 2nd, Labeeb Ahmed (Frames, Coulsdon); 3rd, Paul Bunyard (Woking SC); 4th, Daniel Walker (Cousins, London); 5th, Nick Miles (Ashlett Club, Fawley); 6th, Mike Trigg (Chandlers Ford SC).
GROUP H: 1st, Mark Lloyd (Stoke SC, Gosport); 2nd, Jamie Wilson (Waterlooville Sports Bar); 3rd, Callum Lloyd (Redz, Cwmbran); 4th, Pete Ferguson Craneswater SC, Portsmouth); 5th, Antony Foxcroft (Salisbury SC); 6th, Callum White (Waterlooville Sports Bar).
LAST-16 (20 points): Talmondt 2-0 Gibbs, Worrall 2-0 Dent, O Sykes 2-0 Wallace, Wilson 2-1 A Rice, Ford 2-0 Marsh, Ryan Mears 2-1 Benzey, Joyce 2-0 Cullen, M Lloyd 2-1 Ahmed.
QUARTER-FINALS (£20, 24 points): Talmondt 2-0 Worrall, O Sykes 2-1 Wilson, Ryan Mears 2-1 Ford, M Lloyd 2-1 Joyce.
SEMI-FINALS (£50, 30 points): Talmondt 2-1 O Sykes, Ryan Mears 2-1 M Lloyd.
FINAL (£200/£100, 50/36 points): Ryan Mears 2-0 Talmondt.
Picture by Tim Dunkley
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Tim Dunkley (World Snooker coach)