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Ronnie O'Sullivan's cousin wants her glory

Dudley | Sport | Published:

As one member of the family continues to make the news, Maria Catalano is hoping she will be a headline act in April.

The 33-year-old from Netherton will be striving to win her first world snooker championship after finishing runner-up on five occasions.

It comes just a couple of weeks before her cousin Ronnie O'Sullivan bids for his sixth crown at the famous Crucible venue in Sheffield.

Catalano's shot at glory will take place in the more low-key surroundings of the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds, as the women's game fights to break down the barriers of a male-dominated sport.

But the current world No 4 is hoping that the days where the ladies' efforts are overlooked will soon be a thing of the past.

The World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Limited (WLBS) was formed last year to encourage participation from grassroots level and raise the profile of the women's game, joining forces with the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association.

Dudley's world No 1 – and Catalano's close friend – Reanne Evans caused a stir last year when she pushed former world champion Ken Doherty in a 10-8 loss in the qualifying event for last year's world championships.

And Hong Kong's Ng On Yee will be in the qualifying tournament this time around.

Catalano plays on the local circuit for West Midlands Police in the Stourbridge League and Woodfield in the West Midlands League.

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He said: "The WLBS has been formed and the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association have taken us under their wing.

"The ladies' game has struggled since it started, really. The women's game needs more exposure and they seem to have big plans.

"The difference in prize money is crazy. For our world championships it was £1,500 for the winner last year – the men's was £300,000.

"The women's prize money should be a lot closer, even if it was just enough to make a living.

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Family ties – cousins Ronnie O'Sullivan and Maria Catalano.

"In China, their players are paid £3,000 a month and have to do 88 hours of snooker and 12 hours in the gym. No wonder they are producing players."

As for whether men and women will compete equally side by side, Catalano offers a different view to most of her female colleagues.

She said:"I think men and women are wired differently. I think a man's concentration is so much stronger than a woman's. I think a woman is more of a multi-tasker.

"A man has got more of a killer instinct. I would hate to say that a woman is never going to compete with the men. But to be honest, for the women's game to be completely recognised it needs to stay separate."

For the time being Catalano has to be content with chasing the meagre offerings in tournaments around the country while working for the family business, Antonio's Ice Cream.

She said: "I have never been able to take the game full-time because I have never had a sponsor. I wish I could play full-time and give it a good go, but I work.

"My dad has got an ice cream business so I get December, January and February off! It works pretty well. I had a room built at home a couple of years ago and a table put in, so I can practise and play pretty much full-time.

"But in the summer I work 12-14 hours a day in the van selling ice cream, pretty much around Dudley."

Her love of the game is obvious, as she continues: "I was about five or six and I remember having a snooker table cake for my birthday.

"Obviously my family were interested in the sport with Ronnie playing. I saw him doing well and earning a few quid and thought I want to try that.

"We all used to watch it on the TV and I was a big Steve Davis fan."

While her friends were out and about, Catalano was chalking up the hours on the green baize.

She said: "I started to play at Brierley Hill Snooker Club and that was it. I played every single night. I fell in love with it straight away."

Even success on the American pool circuit failed to tempt her away, adding: "I went to America to play pool because the women's game is quite big over there.

"I won the Florida State Championships, which is a big event, and qualified for the US Open. But pool is not for me, I just want to play snooker."

ID parade – Catalano and her Stourbridge League team-mates from West Midlands Police.

Catalano beat her idol Davis in an exhibition match last year and teamed up with Evans to defeat Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby in a promotional event last month,.

She never felt out of place among male team-mates and opponents, saying: "I have been treated fantastic. I really have.

"I suppose it could be difficult when you walk into a place that's full of men and you are the only woman. But I have been treated brilliantly."

A few tips from O'Sullivan helped along the way and the pair are still in regular contact. The former Hillcrest School pupil is named after O'Sullivan's mother.

She said: "We used to practise a lot when I was younger. I used to travel down to London quite a bit. We still keep in touch.

"I laugh when they announce him as 'Ronnie O'Sullivan from Chigwell in Essex' because he was born in Wordsley. He actually lived in the house I am in now for a couple of years. He is a Black Country lad!

"But he is just very special. I would say he is the best ever. I know he causes a bit of controversy now and again, but he is a genius. I don't know any genius that hasn't had some troubles from time to time.

"He is such a perfectionist. I don't think he will be happy until he never misses a ball."

Catalano will be cheering O'Sullivan on at the Crucible, but for now is focused on her own shot at world glory after missing last year's event due to personal reasons.

She said: "I was ranked No.1 in the world at one time and I have been in the final five times. The ambition is still there and I am going to win it one day, definitely."

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