The Rocket stares gaunt and pasty from out the shadows of an Essex snooker club hall, the green baize casting a sickly hue on his unshaven face. His otherwise blank expression is fixed on a cue ball: gliding on some pre-determined course, nearing a corner pocket only to arch away and turn back on its path, white shine undisturbed as it drops into place, a mid-table pocket right by the point from which the globe was launched. The wilful obscurity one is confronted by on witnessing such an overt display of ultimately empty technical prowess does not erode the aura of genuine command emanating from the snooker player. Ronnie's eyes flick away from the now forgotten ball, his hand, open for the duration of the ball's flight, clenches and returns to its leather jacket pocket, safe in the dark.
"Alright, pal? Let's start --yeah, them demons are gone, they're not behind me now."
Ronnie has been off the drink and anti-depressants for almost a year. I ask if these are the demons he's talking about.
"My dad is coming home soon, he's going to watch me run. I run everyday. It's a reason to get out of bed. It used to be, 'oh what's the point getting up just to knock a few balls around in a big dark room' and I'd crawl out of bed in the afternoon, drink some tea, piss about...those are the days you just lose. I'm trying to put them behind me.
Was he succeeding?
"Mostly, yeah, mostly. I can run to a very high standard and I don't need some pills to get me through the day --fuck that! Look at me now, I'm standing on my own two feet."
Ronnie's road to Damascus, though it's brought him almost to a professional standard in his running and has restored a semblance of normality to his personal life, has not improved his snooker playing. This sober, healthy man is not The Rocket who defeated the Canadian champion using his wrong hand. However, Ronnie is adamant that he will return to the power of his darker days.
"I'm kinda still getting used to flying solo, you know, without them demons behind me. The fear now, it isn't there, I'm not playing to save myself now, which might mean some of that Rocket urgency is gone, that all-out-balls-to-the-wall-guns-blazing snooker Ronnie mastered in those days...Ronnie, that's me. I, Ronnie --I've a clear head now, screwed on properly, you know [he raps his skull lightly with his knuckles] so when I'm playing it's like I'm cruising through cool water, not hopping over hot coals, spat at by tongues of fire... [he pauses as though he's lost his bearings]...Ronnie, that's me. I, well ...we'll just have to see, won't we? I'm playing tomorrow, come watch, we'll talk at my place after."
He shakes my hand hard, hot and firm, smiles forcefully and sweeps out of the shadowy hall. A bodyguard tells me not to expect Ronnie to talk to me again and, of course, he doesn't. The next day Ronnie gets properly licked by this young Chinese player and, after just a few frames, raises his cue aloft like a sword and, with a great cry, brings it splintering down against the table. It was obvious then, them demons were still behind him.
DISCLAIMER: this was written from memory of an interview with Ronnie O'Sullivan in 'theguardian' sport supplement, but it's been twisted along the way.