The Cork native competes in the World Championship qualifiers this month and will turn professional next season.
The immediate future of Irish snooker on the pro circuit is thankfully secure after the magnificent European Under-21 Championship success for Aaron Hill in March.
Veterans Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien have been consistently flying the tricolour flag at the highest level for three decades, and in more recent seasons often alone.
Their long tenures could be coming to an abrupt end in the coming weeks with both Dubliners struggling to finish the campaign inside the world’s top 64 on the official rankings list.
Failure to win the required qualifying matches at this month’s rescheduled World Championship would result in the pair being relegated from the Main Tour.
Doherty, of course, has experienced that hardship before when he failed to make the cut in 2017 a full two decades after his career-defining 1997 world title.
A lifeline was provided in the form of an invitational tour card, and that could obviously be a possibility again, but either way Irish snooker has a new potential star to get behind.
Aaron Hill, still only 18, has rapidly risen up through the domestic and international amateur scene in the last few years.
His CV already boasted multiple national underage crowns but was bolstered further by his glory in the 2019 European Under-18 Championship – during the same season in which he captured a brace of Irish ranking events as he made his breakthrough among the senior set-up at home.
Hill, who plays out of the Crucible Snooker Club in Cork and will have aspirations of winning at its namesake venue in Sheffield someday, finished the 2018/19 term as the top-ranked amateur in Ireland, but that was just the beginning.
Known as “De Breeze” for his ability to stay cool under pressure, Hill defended the European Under-18s in Albufeira in March before proceeding to claim the prestigious Under-21 Championship for a rare international amateur double.
By winning the latter, Hill will represent Ireland as a professional player for both the 2020/21 and 2021/22 snooker seasons.
“Portugal was nothing else other than a dream come true for me and my family,” Hill exclusively told SnookerHQ.
“I had massive support while I was there as always, and the Irish are always behind their own.”
“I’ve got massive family support, and I’ve got a lot of good people and friends around me.
“My sponsor Tomas Singleton has been a great help for me and my family since I started playing in big events, and I can’t thank them enough.”
Taking place just as the coronavirus pandemic was attacking Europe, Hill had no doubts about competing abroad, and despite months of a lockdown in Ireland he hasn’t been as badly affected as a lot of other players.
“It actually went quite well, surprisingly enough – I’ve got my own Star table at home, so that was a big help to me.”
“There was no problem with practice during the lockdown, I just missed competing in events.”
One of the first tournaments that Hill will be participating in will be the most important one on the sport’s calendar.
As a European champion, Hill has accepted an invitation to compete in the World Championship qualifying competition that gets under way on July 21st at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.
Four wins separate the teenager from a debut at the Crucible Theatre, where he could face the likes of reigning world champion Judd Trump or former world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Hill had a similar opportunity in 2019 on the back of his original European Under-18 success and gave a good account of himself before ultimately falling short in a 10-7 defeat to Gerard Greene.
More than a year on, he’ll be looking to underline his credentials as he sets out on a road that will soon see him competing alongside these names as a fellow pro on a regular basis – with Chen Feilong announced as his first round opponent in the preliminaries.
“It feels unbelievable to call myself a professional snooker player as ever since I picked up my cue that was my dream.”
“It still hasn’t really kicked in properly. My aim for the first two years is to just stay on the tour and not fall off, with anything else being a bonus.
“To win my four qualifying matches and get to the Crucible would be a dream, but I’ll just take one game at a time and one ball at a time – you never know what could happen, but I know I’m good enough.”
The sky appears to be the limit, and the pedigree of this young player has been there to see for quite some time.
Hill, who made the most of his invitation to beat Kyren Wilson en route to the last 32 of the Snooker Shoot Out in February, announced himself as a major talent with victory in the Under-14 Irish National Championship in 2016.
Additional junior accolades have quickly come at under-16, under-18, and under-21 levels on the domestic front since.
A proud player from the Rebel county, Aaron Hill has benefited too from a supportive family and a thriving snooker scene in Cork.
Ross Bulman, who missed out on European glory in the under-21 final last year, will also compete in this year’s Word Championship qualifiers, while many of his fellow Crucible club members have performed well both at home and internationally in the past.
“The sausages and pudding our mothers buy us is the secret!”
“I don’t really know what it is with us Cork players, but we’re all good friends so we’re delighted for each other when we do well.
“Growing up in my club I had very good practice partners – I had the likes of Greg Casey, Ryan Cronin, and David Cassidy playing me everyday.
“They were a big help to me when I was younger, and they showed me a lot about the game.
“We’re currently All-Ireland club champions, and our fifth team member is Daniel O’Regan who is always a very good player that I’ve often practiced with growing up also.
“My family has been there for me from the start too, and they have given me everything to get to where I am now – I would be nowhere without them.
“My Dad said he would bring me for a game someday, and one day I was upset because I didn’t make the Cork team in football after getting to the last stage.
“I was gutted, but my dad brought me for a game of snooker to cheer me up and I haven’t looked back since.”
There’s no need for reflection with a bright career now ahead of him and the prospect of bringing the glory days back to Irish snooker on the cards.
The guidance from experienced duo Doherty and O’Brien could help Hill in his early days, but he seems set on taking it in his stride whatever happens.
“I suppose it would be a good buzz to be the only pro from Ireland, but I would love to have one of the boys, if not two of them, on the tour with me.”
“They’re top-class guys, and it would be a pleasure to represent my country with them – I will be rooting for them to stay on tour for sure.”
Aaron Hill competes in the World Snooker Championship qualifiers that run from July 21st to July 28th in Sheffield.