2 Dec 2011
It was January when Ronnie O'Sullivan decided to retire from snooker. He told Barry Hearn, the man hoping to mastermind the return to the sport's heyday of the 1980s, of his intention but Hearn, with his notorious gift of the gab, managed to persuade snooker's most marketable asset to stay in the game at least until the end of the season.
Looking back, O'Sullivan recalled: "I'd made the decision to call it quits back in January and even six months ago I was done with it. I played out the season as Barry asked but all the time I thought, 'What's the point at each tournament, I'm not going to win it'.
"But, very gradually, I was made to love what I do again."
The 35-year-old has had a love-hate relationship with the sport that he has occasionally dominated but, for the last 18 months, it was more a case of pure hate.
The man responsible for putting the sparkle back into 'Rocket' Ronnie on the green baize was Dr Steve Peters, the sports psychiatrist who has worked with British Cycling for the past decade.
"I'd say he deserves 95 per cent of the credit for me to still be playing," said O'Sullivan.
"I'm not sure there was a eureka moment, exactly. It was all thanks to him getting me in the right frame of mind. He showed me how to fall in love with snooker and made me realise I'd actually always loved it.
"It's easy to put the work in with someone like that. He's an inspirational guy. He has enabled me to stay on track, to stay strong. He's a bit of a miracle worker - he's so good at what he does. He's such a charismatic man and has got me back into a good place - we got there gradually, although I'm not going to tell you what he said."
In fact, O'Sullivan talks somewhat cryptically about the events of the past 18 months without divulging the exact details, although he says it was nothing to do with a return of the depression he has suffered with in the past.
"The last 18 months have been the worst of my life and no one really knew what was going on," he said. "I wasn't turning up at tournaments and it wasn't that I didn't want to but certain concerns wouldn't allow it.
"I can't really say but the last 18 months have been hard. It was enough to stop me feeling like I could properly play - it was personal reasons. Put it this way, I couldn't get my cue out of the case for more than five minutes. I didn't have the fight in me any more. You need that in this sport - I just couldn't do it. I just wasn't there.
"A lot of people go through it, it all happens at some time. It's normal but it happened when it happened and I had to deal with it. It's life and we all have to go through these things."
Whatever the problems were and whatever mental remedy Dr Peters has come up with for O'Sullivan, it has clearly done the trick. The biggest battle for years for O'Sullivan has not been with his talent - he is arguably the most naturally-gifted player the sport has ever seen - but with his mind.
With that now seemingly in full working order, the expectation is that O'Sullivan may again get back to his peak. For now, his ambitions are not too lofty. He dismisses his chances of being world No1 again, describing it as "a young man's ambition".
Instead, he wants to win again. There have been successes this season - namely in the Players' Tour Championship series - but he has not won a full ranking event since the China Open in 2009.
He insists the lack of ranking victories have not played on his mind. "The fact is that during the last 18 months I wasn't giving it 100 per cent nor trying to win everything," he added. "If I was doing that and not winning, I'd be worried.
"But, finally, I feel I can win big again. I didn't think I'd be in a position like this again. I feel a bit like I've been given a second chance at this sport, a bit like John Higgins [who served a six-month ban for bringing the sport into disrepute]."
The immediate priority is the UK Championships, which get under way in York tomorrow. O'Sullivan, who faces Steve Davis in the first round on Sunday afternoon, is a four-time winner of the event, his first success there coming as long as 18 years ago and the most recent back in 2007.
The UK Championships are one of his major priorities of the season and, as a result, he has really knuckled down in the build-up.
"You have to prioritise the tournaments now, well, I do," he added.
"For example, things like the UK Championships and the World Championships, they're big events so the aim is to work hard and peak two weeks before that.
"So, I need to make sure that my preparation is right. Some of the other events, less so. Sometimes, it's a case of just turning up.
"So sometimes now I'll just come home and not play for a week."
As for the retirement talk, that has completely vanished, with O'Sullivan now insisting he expects at least five more seasons in the sport.
"I still feel like I've got some tournaments in me whether it's this year, next year, the year after or when I'm in my forties," he said.