Although he has passed on, our memories of Paul remain vivid. Not only was he massively talented, but his wonderful character and attitude lit up the snooker tour.
His marvelous comebacks in the Masters finals of 2001, 2002 & 2004 were the stuff of legend. Anyone claiming that Ronnie O'Sullivan's mind is the only thing that can stop him need only look at Hunter's 10-9 win over the rocket in the wonderful 2004 final to see this isn't true. Hunter found himself 7-2 down to the man who would be crowned World Champion later that year, but thanks to his 'Plan B' he produced 5 centuries and took the crown for the third time at the arena that felt his presence so often.
His antics with Lyndsey Fell at the intervals of these Masters final saw him claim many a remarkable victory, and his loveable attitude saw him become a crowd favourite.
Hunter wasn't just a great character though. He was a very, very fine player who I have little doubt would have gone on to claim the World Title by now, had fate not intervened so cruelly. In 2003 he was on course for a final spot with Mark Williams, before he saw his 15-9 lead over Ken Doherty clawed back to a 17-16 loss. It wasn't to be. Hunter's demeanour after the match was typical of the man. Naturally disappointed, but acknowleding his opponent and takig defeat admirably. It was a massive disappointment, but there would be plenty more chances....
In 2004 he entered as second favourite, but yet again he was on the receiving end of another fine comeback in the second rounf, this time to his closest friend, Matthew Stevens. Again, Hunter's attitude was exceptional. He had suffered another crushing defeat, but he still found the time to hug his mate. And again, we believed, there would be plenty more chances.
2004/05 wasn't going so well for the gifted Leeds potter. But whatever was happening on the table paled into insignificance after the 2005 China Open. Hunter had been diagnosed with cancer. The news shocked the snooker world, but being the battler he was, most people expected him to get through it.
Doubts were cast over his participation at the Crucible in April of that year. But Hunter showed remarkable courage and nearly pulled off a win over Michael Holt before going down 10-8. He had lost nothing though, only gaining in popularity.
His UK Championship match with Jamie Burnett later that year is one I'll never forget. It was a marathon, and Hunter was clearly in pain. He found himself 6-8 down to the Glaswegian, but somehow took the game 9-8. You could only admire him and the reaction in the crowd was moving.
It would be his last win. Having won the right to have his ranking frozen for the season, Hunter took a year out to concentrate on his crushing battle with cancer. Things werent going that well, but the birth of his first daughter, Evie Rose, gave him heart.
It wasn't to be though. I'll never forget checking RTE's teletext that morning and reading the headline 'Hendry pays tribute to Hunter'. That was it. A player destined for great things, who had everything going for him...had gone.
We must never forget Hunter, that goes without saying. We must always think of his friends and family. World Snooker's refusal to name the Masters trophy after him, in spite of nearly everyone being in favour, shows just how far from the people's consciousnesses they are. Some scholarship and the German Open is too little to honour this great, great individual.
World Snooker may not have given him his dues, but we must. Hats off to Paul Hunter. Gone, but never to be forgotten. His spirit lives on in in his family, and every true snooker fan
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