ITV and Eurosport pundit heaps praise on Robert Milkins and Shaun Murphy

Neal Foulds is back with his latest column, reflecting on the recent success stories of Robert Milkins and Shaun Murphy.

It’s been very much the Milkins and Murphy show these past few weeks and the success of both players has left us with a heartwarming story and some of the best snooker you could ever wish for.

For Robert Milkins, victory at the Welsh Open was the crowning moment in a career that had always promised much but perhaps not quite delivered what was predicted in its early days. Milkins has always been a very good player, but he hadn’t won in the way his talent suggested and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering if his chance might never come.

Milkins handles the printing of big money

Of course, that all changed when he won the Gibraltar Open last year, but to back it up Victory at the Welsh Open Earning the BetVictor bonus less than a year later is a remarkable achievement considering he is fast approaching his 47th birthday.

It’s such a beautiful story. A normal, everyday guy who likes to drink and laugh, does well in the twilight of his career and wins the kind of money that could fund him for life.

But with that opportunity came tremendous pressure and with so much at stake in the finals against Shaun Murphy, he didn’t back down. He beat a man who would prove unbeatable at the Players Championship just a week later and deserves all the good things to come.

That final in Wales was worth £230,000 to Milkins when you added in the bonus he was playing for, but that’s not all as his place in the forthcoming Tour championship is almost guaranteed and a Crucible finish is now firmly in sight .

He’s in a strong position for Sheffield anyway and I know it means a lot to him to get back in the top 16 and qualify automatically for the World Cup. In fact, I know the past few weeks have meant a lot to him and you could tell by how emotional he was after beating Murphy.

I was very happy for him and I’m not alone in that. Milkins is a popular man on and off the tour and he may not have finished the season yet.

As for the man he beat in Wales, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him play better. I know Murphy was disappointed to lose that final in Wales but his form has continued to progress in the right direction in recent months and he has been a great Players Championship winner.

The brilliant Murphy is deadly and dominant

It was indeed a season dominated by a select few players at various stages of the campaign, with Mark Allen enjoying a good run up to the World Grand Prix, Judd Trump doing well in January and now Murphy seemingly taking the baton.

Just like John Higgins did at the Players Championship a few years back, Murphy got everyone to stand in his way last week and raked in the five highest breaks of the tournament on his trek to title glory. It’s a measure of how well he’s scoring that he also had the top two breaks at the Welsh Open before that.

His performance over the past week has been exceptional and in truth he was in a completely different league to everyone else. I am sure that winning the World Cup as a 22-year-old qualifier will always be his greatest achievement, but in pure form he is currently playing over his skin and enjoying the best of his great career.

Still, I’ve talked about it a lot and seen that Murphy is now the man to beat in Sheffield. Like many of the top players, he can clearly win the big one, but the World Cup is a whole different beast, played in a different format over 17 days.

Perhaps Murphy will be able to keep this hot streak going but nothing is guaranteed and like Allen he won’t be as fresh as some when the Sheffield marathon comes around. Anyway, what we’ve learned over the past few years is that it’s not always the youngest tournament winners who succeed in the Crucible.

Who will make it in time for Sheffield?

Neil Robertson was undoubtedly the best player of last season but he couldn’t replicate that form at Sheffield and I wouldn’t draw any firm conclusions about Murphy or anyone just yet.

Before that, I will be working at Eurosport on the World Six Reds Championship, which starts in Thailand on Monday.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is poised to perform in a strong and diverse field with female players and some locals to watch out for. This format is very popular in Thailand and it’s really exciting to have snooker back in Asia for the first time since the pandemic.

It’s a stepping stone but fingers crossed this is just the beginning in terms of snooker returning to China, a country where the game is loved by so many.

We then return to ITV for the Tour Championship, now one of the most coveted tournaments on the calendar, with all roads then leading back to the Crucible and Sheffield.

There’s a lot to look forward to.

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