sport

Murphy inspired by Hunter

Shaun Murphy has been inspired by memories of Paul Hunter as he closes in on UK Championship glory.

Hunter was one of his sport's most popular figures but died of cancer in October 2006 at the age of 27.

In York over the past week Murphy has had his old friend on his mind, and he considers the Leeds man to have been the perfect model of a player who knew how to stay cool in the heat of battle.

Most famously, Hunter employed a 'Plan B' during the interval in his first Masters final, as he returned re-energised from spending the break with his girlfriend and future wife Lindsey in their hotel bedroom. Hunter beat Fergal O'Brien 10-9 from 6-2 behind.

Murphy's mental strength has shone through at the Barbican Centre where he has won final-frame deciders against Luca Brecel and Ali Carter to clinch a place in the title match. He insisted last night that there had been no 'Plan B' in operation during the Carter match.

The 30-year-old will on Sunday have a shot at the 125,000 top prize and his second UK title, four years after the first.

And when Murphy has had to fight to stay composed, three-time Masters champion Hunter's attitude has come to mind.

"I'm very strong technically and my shot selection has been good over the years, but what I've been able to do recently is hold myself together," Murphy said.

"And I remember the great Paul Hunter, that was his best strength.

"Under pressure he was able to chill out and you'd never know with Paul whether he'd won or lost.

"I've tried to take that on board and use it to the same effect.

"I see the funny side of things rather than banging my cue on the table and in the last few frames against Ali I didn't feel any pressure at all."

From 8-4 behind against Carter, Murphy won five frames in a row to prevail 9-8, and after making a recent bad habit of losing in ranking event semi-finals he is thrilled to be challenging again for one of the most prized trophies in snooker.

He said: "I think what's happened this week is that all the little pieces of the experience that I've gathered over the last few years have all come together.

"Win, lose or draw on Sunday I've had a really great week.

"I've gone back to my attacking play, my long potting has been good and I've had a bit of nous here and there which I never used to have.

"I've played quite clever snooker at times. But the biggest thing for me is that I've been able to keep my composure.

"Never at any time has my head gone down. I've not been stomping around and I've not been sulking. I've just got on with it.

"I'm going into the final having already won this tournament, so I feel I probably won't be under much pressure. I've got a free crack at it."

There was disappointment for Murphy at the beginning of the year when he was beaten in the Masters final by Neil Robertson, and that is a title he has yet to claim.

He will have another chance next month at Alexandra Palace, but for now Murphy's focus is on lifting the UK trophy.

"It'd be nice to have one of the big three," said the player who is based in Sale, Greater Manchester.

"I had a great chance in January to win the Masters and complete my set of 'BBC' majors, that didn't happen but to have another good run at this tournament and another crack at the trophy is very, very exciting."