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Ailing Morgan is still a green baize master.

Byline: By Simon Kendal-Williams South Wales Echo

Darren Morgan climbed out of his hospital bed to clinch the European Masters Snooker Championship, overcoming the odds to claim his third amateur title of the season.

The 41-year-old former professional travelled to Carlow, Ireland, just days after emergency surgery to remove a throat abscess and without picking up a cue for almost a month.

But after a shaky start, Morgan eased into the knockout stages, dropping just one frame en route to the final, where he added to the European Team Masters title he captured with Gerald Braine in March.

Less than a week before the event began, though, playing snooker was the furthest thing from his mind.

Morgan said: "I'd had laryngitis for a few days, but I was struggling to breathe, which really panicked me.

"I went to the doctor and it turned out I had quinsy as well.

"But instead of the usual nodules on the back of the throat, I had an abscess the size of a golf ball. The doctor took one look at me and sent me straight to hospital.

"They operated almost on the spot to burst the abscess and within 15 minutes I was lying in bed recovering."

Despite his condition, Morgan was itching to pick up his cue and get back to the table, rather than spend time recuperating at his Fleur-de-Lys home.

"I discharged myself the day before I was due to fly to Ireland for the tournament," he said.

"Everyone said I was mad to travel, let alone play, but I was determined to compete."

Dosed up on antibiotics, still feeling groggy and without match practice, Morgan made the trip to the Ivy Rooms, and soon began to regret his decision.

"I went on a family holiday to Florida for two weeks, and was due to spend a week practising before the illness struck, so I was hardly well prepared," said the former World Championship semi-finalist.

"I thought I'd made a mistake going there during the first few days - all I wanted to do was sleep!

"I decided to use the group stages of the tournament as practice, and the only reason I went through was because I was able to call on all my years of experience as a professional.

"The only person who beat me was Kieran McMahon, and I thought as long as I avoided him in the knockout stages, I'd have a chance."

As Morgan's health and fitness improved, so did his form, and he managed to compile nine breaks over 50 in his final four matches.

Finn Jyri Virtanen (4-0) and England's John Welsh (5-0) were convincingly beaten, before home favourite Brendan Cooney was dispatched 5-1 in the semi-final.

Predictably, Ulsterman McMahon lay in wait in the final, but this time Morgan turned the tables with a 6-2 win to lift the title.

"I hammered him," smiled Morgan.

"I still wasn't at my best, but I began to knock in a few more breaks and felt pretty good."

With two European Masters and the Welsh Masters titles already under his belt this year, Morgan now has his eyes firmly fixed on the World Masters crown in November.

He said: "If I can go to Thailand and bring the trophy back 20 years after I won the World Amateur title, I'd be delighted.

"I'm really enjoying my snooker at the moment, and crucially, I'm still very competitive, so I'll be giving it my best shot."

With several of his peers still plying their trade on the professional circuit, does he ever regret calling it a day when he did?

"I finally retired the day after my 40th birthday," said Morgan.

"I'd originally planned to quit three or four years before that.

"No, I haven't regretted my decision for a second, and the reason I left the pro game remains the same - I wasn't prepared to put in the effort required to remain playing at the highest level.

"And I certainly don't miss the travelling!"
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 20, 2007
Words:667
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