For some snooker professionals, being drawn against Ronnie O’Sullivan in a major tournament would fill them with a sense of foreboding and leave them cursing their luck.
Not so with Antrim-based Cypriot player Michael Georgiou, who is relishing the prospect of taking on the five-time world champion in the upcoming Championship League, which will mark the resumption of competitive snooker.
The 32-year-old joins O’Sullivan, Chris Wakelin and Kishan Hirani in the same group for the event in Milton Keynes.
“Ronnie is one of the all-time greats, perhaps the most talented player ever to play the sport, so I feel lucky just to be playing him and be part of the same era,” said Georgiou, who has lost to O’Sullivan twice in the UK Championship and once in the Scottish Open.
“When he’s in full flow I love watching him – he’s obviously a tough opponent and I’ll be giving it everything – but even when you are up against him you have to admire the way he plays the game when he’s at his best.”
The tournament at the Marshall Arena will be the first since the Gibraltar Open in March and will mark one of the first professional sports to return to action since the restrictions imposed by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
The event, which runs from 1 to 11 June, will be played behind closed doors with all players, staff and contractors being tested for Covid-19 before entering the venue and being kept in isolation until their results are known.
Players will require a negative test in order to be eligible for the event, with the Marshall Arena chosen as a venue because it has on-site accommodation so that everyone involved can be contained on the complex.
‘A chance to re-set myself’
“The Championship League is being used by World Snooker as a test for how the World Championship [which has been rescheduled for 31 July-16 August] might pan out,” explained Georgiou.
“They have done amazingly well to get this tournament organised and it should be good for the sport as it will be one of the first to resume and will get some good exposure through live television.
“It will be different as we are being encouraged to keep ourselves to ourselves and with no spectators it will just be the two players, a cameraman, a scorer and the referee.
“There is no greater feeling than playing in front of a knowledgeable audience so I’ll miss that but we are there to do a job and most of the time during matches it is pretty quiet anyhow so maybe it will even help me focus a bit more.
“I’ve not had the best of seasons – aside from reaching the quarter-finals of the German Masters – and last week was the first time I had a cue in my hand for eight or nine weeks.
“I’ve been practicing again and while at first it felt alien to me I have come to regard the time out as a blessing in disguise – an opportunity to enjoy a break and re-set myself.
“It’s nice to have something to practice for as I find it difficult to motivate myself to practice when there is no prospect of a competition to play in.”
Playing at Crucible ‘a dream come true’
Georgiou claimed his first professional title by winning the Snooker Shootout in 2018, the same year that he made a maximum break in the Paul Hunter Classic.
He made his debut at the World Championship in 2019, losing to Neil Robertson in the first round and a second appearance at the showpiece event of the season, plus retaining his Tour Card as part of the world’s top 64, are his immediate priorities.
“Winning the Shootout was the highlight of my career so far. I was insanely focused that week and it was special having my family there,” explained this season’s German Masters quarter-finalist.
“To play at the worlds at the Crucible last year was a dream come true as I had grown up watching it year after year. I found myself just looking round the arena and taking it all in. Despite losing, I loved the experience.
“There is some uncertainty over whether there will be a Qualifying School or not but I want to make sure of retaining my card anyhow by picking up another one or two wins.”
Relocating from London to Antrim
After spending 30 years in London, Georgiou moved to live in Northern Ireland last year, with several factors influencing his decision to relocate from the UK capital to the relative tranquility of the town of Antrim.
“A lot of the snooker clubs around me had closed down – six or seven in a period of six or seven months – all of those within 10 minutes or so of my house so I was struggling to find accessible clubs to practice in,” explained Michael.
“I’ve known Mark Allen since I was a teenager and he invited me over to play in a Charity Pro-Am last year. I had a chat with him about my situation and he said ‘come over here, we’d love to have you here’.
“When I saw the difference in house prices between Antrim and London there was no comparison. It was quite an impulsive decision as I had spent just six days in Antrim before moving.
‘Feels like home’
“Everyone at the 147 Club in the town has been fantastic, so welcoming, and it really feels like home now. As well as Mark, Jordan Brown plays there, so that makes three of us from the pro tour.
“Northern Ireland is a beautiful country. When you come from an urban background the scenery is really stunning and I’m really enjoying it here.”
Georgiou has been living in his adopted hometown for around seven months now and is taken with the slower, less stressful pace of life.
“I can’t remember the last time I was sat in a traffic jam whereas in London it is a totally different story. Everyone is so relaxed and friendly, it’s a completely different way of life.
“I haven’t been able to get out and about to see the sights as much as I would have liked yet but I want to explore areas like the North Coast. I’ve heard wonderful things about it.
“My long-term goal is to get something set up in Cyprus and help develop the sport there but for now I’m very happy here.”