VETERAN John Hunter admitted he was shaking like a kid on his debut as a record entry kicked off the first leg of the Cuestars South of England Seniors (40+) Tour.
But eight hours later, the 48-year-old Andover cueman, who has been competing in regional and national events for more than 30 years, chalked up a half-century break to clinch the deciding frame of the final.
“I’m exhausted,” he declared, following the 2-1 victory over Nick Birney on the match table at Chandler’s Ford Snooker Club.
Hunter, who shared the rankings title with Wayne Muddiman last season and had won it outright in the previous two campaigns, took the first frame on a fluked blue but was forced to extract himself from the resulting snookered position.
Resplendent in a yellow Brazil football shirt, Birney, from High Wycombe, opened the next with a 33 break and left his opponent chasing snookers on the colours.
But Hunter’s 58 break in the third elicited the handshake.
The pair had agreed to split the £180 prize money but played the match for the ranking points.
“Nick’s a confidence player so that always worries me,” said Hunter, who is based at Salisbury Snooker Club. “He plays the right shots irrespective of what the situation is in the frame.
“So if he does miss, you’ll get good chances. But you do know that he might not miss. Thankfully, in the deciding frame he missed.
“He pushed the boat out a little bit, which, for Nick, sometimes works beautifully. But on that occasion it worked out well for me.”
The first leg of six attracted a 30-strong field from across the south, the most since the tour was launched in 2010.
Organisers were in a “panic” and Hunter said it was “nerve-wracking” as the steady stream of past and present players entered the ten-table club.
“It’s the first competition of the season,” he explained. “And I’ve not really been able to prepare like I would like to.
“You want to do well; you want to compete; you want to play well. It’s a good thing to win, a tournament with 30 people in it.”
One new face, who didn’t drop a frame until the semi-finals, impressed the established members of the tour.
Mike Talmondt, widely regarded as the best player in Portsmouth, offered his hand to Birney after missing the final black with the rest and leaving it over a middle pocket in a third-frame decider.
Hunter said: “Any player like that, it just takes a little while to settle in amongst people who can beat you.
“He might be playing locally and he’s the top guy but when you come into this bigger pond, it takes a little while to settle.
“I hope he sticks with it because he’s a good player.”
The second leg of six is at Jesters Snooker Hall, Swindon, on Sunday, November 23.
John Hunter: 64, 58, 42.
Martin Wallace: 57.
Mike Talmondt: 55, 45, 37, 36.
Nick Birney: 47, 33.
Wayne Muddiman: 41, 30.
Steve Allen: 41.
Neil Carroll: 38, 30.
Mark Tillison: 38.
Neil Herd: 36, 30.
David Stewart: 36.
Darren Howard: 33, 32, 31, 30.
Martin Hill: 31, 30.
ROUND-ROBIN GROUP POSITIONS
GROUP A: 1st, Neil Herd (Frome, Somerset); 2nd, Neil Carroll (Chandler’s Ford SC); 3rd, Nick Miles (Ashlett Club, Fawley); 4th, Jon Walker (Potting Shed, Aldbourne).
GROUP B: 1st, Wayne Muddiman (Chandlers Ford Central); 2nd, Martin Wallace (Crowthorne RBL); 3rd, Martin Hill (Salisbury SC); 4th, Ray Mears (Sovereign SC, Farnborough).
GROUP C: 1st, Mike Talmondt (Copnor SC, Portsmouth); 2nd, Steve Allen (Totton Recreation Club); 3rd, Dave Pullman (Sunninghill Comrades Club, Ascot); 4th, Mark Tillison (Copnor SC, Portsmouth).
GROUP D: 1st, John Hunter (Salisbury SC); 2nd, Paul Stenning (Baizz, Southampton); 3rd, Richard Arnold (Salisbury SC); 4th, Mike Thatcher (Shirley Conservative Club).
GROUP E: 1st, Chris Stocker (Sunninghill Comrades Club, Ascot); 2nd, Scott Compton (Copnor SC, Portsmouth); 3rd, David Stewart (Chandler’s Ford SC); 4th, Steve Tonks (Ashlett Club, Fawley).
GROUP F: 1st, David Farmer (No club); 2nd, Steve Ashton (Salisbury SC); 3rd, Darren Howard (Liberal Club, High Wycombe); 4th, Trevor Pittman (Salisbury SC).
GROUP G: 1st, Nick Birney (Liberal Club, High Wycombe); 2nd, Stephen Hills (Traders, Northfleet); 3rd, Dharmendra Patel (Crucible, Newbury).
GROUP H: 1st, Paul Bateman (Crucible, Newbury); 2nd, Jasbir Bansal (Woking SC); 3rd, Alex Thorn (Salisbury SC).
QUARTER-FINALS (£15, 12 pts): Talmondt beat Herd 2-0, Birney beat Stocker 2-0, Hunter beat Muddiman 2-0, Bateman beat Farmer 2-1.
SEMI-FINALS (£30, 15 pts): Birney beat Talmondt 2-1, Hunter beat Bateman 2-0.
FINAL (£120/£60 25/18 pts): Hunter beat Birney 2-1.
Report and picture by Tim Dunkley. John Hunter (left) and Nick Birney.