Joe O'Connor: Leicester potter inspired by Welsh Open form

Snooker player Joe O'Connor
Joe O'Connor turned professional in April 2018

Joe O'Connor says his run to the Welsh Open semi-finals was "surreal" and wants it to be a "breakthrough" moment.

The 23-year-old had never gone beyond the last 32 of a ranking event, but the Leicester man was in stunning form as he saw off three of the world's top nine before losing to Stuart Bingham.

Kyren Wilson, Ding Junhui were all beaten, as was four-time world champion John Higgins in the quarter-finals.

"It was nuts really," world number 103 O'Connor told BBC Sport.

"It's going to take a while to sink in.

"To beat one top-10 player and then another, and then another and reach the last four was weird. But it's nice to see all hard work from the last five years or so pay off."

O'Connor also said there was sense of relief, proving to himself and his peers that his talent and temperament is good enough to compete at the very highest level.

"I had my chances against Stuart Bingham too, but didn't play as well I had been playing," he added.

"But doing so well is a lovely reward. It keeps me motivated and I hope it can be a breakthrough and the boost I need to reach the next level."

The first part of reaching that next level was for the first-year professional to make the world's top 80 by the end of his first 12 months on tour.

That goal has now been accomplished thanks to the biggest payday of his career so far. The £20,000 in prize money will see him climb to 80 ahead of schedule.

But although the immediate financial security his earnings bring cannot be underestimated, his achievements in Cardiff mean a great deal more to him.

"The whole thing has been surreal," said the former pool champion.

"It's been weird seeing the likes of Bingham, Higgins and Ronnie O'Sullivan saying I have got good potential. I enjoyed it and just didn't feel nervous.

"The first two years when I was still an amateur and was playing against pros was really tough, I only won about two matches over two years and I just wasn't used to getting beaten so regularly having been so successful at pool.

"The step up from pool and the skill gap is massive. But the experience making that transition has helped me massively and I am sure that going through that will help me in the next stage of my journey."

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