Ronnie O’Sullivan’s mood was as bright as the sunshine which bathed Sheffield yesterday on the eve of the Betfred World Championship.
As the sport’s top players gathered for snooker’s media day, including defending champion Mark Selby, all eyes were on five-time winner O’Sullivan.
The last of those Crucible titles may have come in 2013, but that five-year stretch has not hoodwinked bookies, and tournament sponsors, Betfred who make him 5-2 favourite to emerge as champion in 17 days time.
And with good reason. Victory in Sheffield would complete an amazing Yorkshire hat-trick, after winning the UK Championship in York, and the English Open in Barnsley earlier this season.
Throw in other ranking tournament wins at the Shanghai Masters, World Grand Prix and the Players Championship, and it’s clear the 42-year-old is the man to beat at the Crucible.
“I like it up this end of the world,” O’Sullivan told The Yorkshire Post. “I spend a lot of time in Sheffield, it’s a great place.
“It’s good to be here. Statistically it’s been a good year, could have played better.
“But there’s still quite a bit of silverware in the cabinet so I am not going to start complaining,” added O’Sullivan, who could become the first player to win £1m prize money on a single season with another Crucible title.
Not that O’Sullivan is thinking about the financial rewards.
“(Reaching £1m) would mean something if I played for money, but I don’t play snooker for money,” he said. “That’s not something that enters my head, but I am aware that you all talk about it.
“I don’t look at records, I just try to enjoy myself.
“I am enjoying what I do in my life, playing snooker when I can, and this is just a two-week holiday in Sheffield for me hopefully.
“If it isn’t, I will just go back and do some stuff with Eurosport, bit of commentary. I am in a win-win situation.
“A Chinese proverb says you have two lives, zero to 40, and 40-80. I am in that second part of my life now.
“Two or three years ago I thought it was important to plan what I was going to do away from snooker.
“I am just trying to hang in there and get a few results to keep me going.
“I have won the world title five times and it’s a great feeling.
“But it’s probably not as good a feeling as you think it is. It sinks in a week later. But for me, I get detached a little bit, and have a bit of fun really.”
O’Sullivan opens up in Sheffield today against Scotsman Stephen Maguire, 37, in a tough first-round encounter.
The Crucible format, stretched over 17 days, is a sporting marathon, which even keen runner O’Sullivan struggles to enjoy.
“I don’t have to get myself up for it,” he said. “Seventeen days is a long time, it’s just another tournament.
“Someone like me, I prefer a five-day or seven-day tournament. That probably suits my personality a little bit better.
“If you start asking Usain Bolt would he like to run the 10km, he probably wouldn’t fancy the training. It’s a bit long for him.
“But Mo Farah would love it. It’s different strokes for different folks.
“I just need to come here and make it as relaxed as possible, but I much prefer shorter tournaments.”
O’Sullivan stands two short of Stephen Hendry’s record haul of seven world titles.
But former world No 2 Maguire – now ranked 18th in the world – is an awkward first-round opponent, having come through this week’s qualifiers to reach the Crucible.
O’Sullivan said: “I don’t care who I play, if you want to win it you have to play well. If you don’t play well, you are going out. There’s no need to complicate it.
“He is a fantastic player and the sort of player you wouldn’t want to draw in the first round. But I have drawn him, and have to get on with it.
“I don’t really analyse it, it all comes instinctively. I don’t know how I am going to prepare, what I will be thinking, just get on with it, play the game, and let it unravel.”
Being interviewed in the bar of the Crucible – the famous Sheffield theatre which is no stranger to drama over the years – O’Sullivan cuts a relaxed figure.
So long snooker’s poster boy, and box-office hit, the Essex potter has found a good balance between work and life off the table.
“As you get older, you get a little bit wiser,” he explained.
“I feel pretty good, happy with how my career is going, what I am doing.
“The last two or three years have been really good.
“I am quite a selfish person really. The family fit in with what I am doing, I am away working a lot. I pay the bills, so they understand that.”
“I just go out, do my work and enjoy myself. When I am home they see me, when I am not, they speak to me on Facetime.”
O’Sullivan is closing in on another Hendry record, he has 33 ranking title wins, compared to the Scot’s 36.
Not that the six-times UK champion and seven-times Masters winner likes to compare himself with players from previous generations.
“It’s really hard to compare, because it depends what era you do it,” he said.
“It’s okay winning tournaments when the field is a bit weak, but to compare records is pretty difficult.
“Look at Federer, who did it when players like Nadal and Djokovic were around. That makes it even more impressive.
“I am not sure how to measure myself against Stephen Hendry, as long as I keep getting a buzz from snooker I will keep doing it.”