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Navy Lieutenant is New Zealand snooker champion

Lieutenant (LT) Mark Hannah’s reconnection with his family’s snooker legacy has resulted in a national title last year.

29 December, 2023

In October 2023, LT Hannah prevailed in a hotly-contested national competition at Otaki RSA, taking a 3-1 semi-final victory over New Zealand Number 2 Rob Redgrove of Christchurch - a strong defeat considering Redgrove was running hot after winning the South Island and NZ Open championships in the last few months.

LT Hannah went on to defeat ex-English professional Neil Cameron, based out of Palmerston North, in a tight 3-2 victory to take the title for the first time in his amateur career.

The win is not only celebratory in its own right but caps a resurrection of sorts for LT Hannah. The legacy is enormous – his surname is synonymous with snooker in New Zealand, dating back to the mid-1940s in Otaki when the great Walter Lindrum, world billiards champion, came to town to give a demonstration match. The story goes that he spotted a pair of eyes underneath the bench seating and asked the 14-year-old boy to come out. That lad was LT Hannah’s father, Robbie Hannah, and when Lindrum asked him to play, the boy scored a 40-plus break.

Robbie Hannah stayed amateur, going on to become a motor mechanic. LT Hannah remembers his father coming home in a big V8, full of prizes from winnng the NZ RSA Snooker Championships in 1984. “I thought, wow, you can win something in this sport.”

Snooker and billiards has always been in the blood, says LT Hannah. “We’ve got a billiard table that has been in the family since the 1960s. We’d have Sunday sessions with locals. Anyone in the family can pick up a cue.”

He seriously got the bug for the sport at 18, when his father took him to Palmerston North for a tournament. “I had never played anyone outside of family, and I realised I had a competitive streak. I didn’t like to lose. I went home and I practised and practised.” LT Hannah would win games, but would lose as well. He struggled with consistency, something that had bugged him throughout his younger years.

LT Hannah followed his brothers Dean and Wayne into the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1985. A communicator, he rose to Warrant Officer and commissioned from the ranks two years ago.

He’s been to four world snooker championships, reaching the last 32 in a competition in Latvia in 2013. He says the discipline he acquired in the Navy helped his focus. “A Navy Physical Training Instructor helped me with mental preparation. He said, no matter what sport you play, you need to get the top two inches of your head right, if you want to make it to the next level.”

It’s something you need when all you can do is watch your opponent sink ball after ball. “Snooker is such a unique sport. It’s only you and your head. You have no control over the other player, and you get that sinking feeling when all you can do is watch. Golf is very similar.”

Over time LT Hannah moved into the administration side of the sport. He’s a former president of the Wellington Billiards and Snooker Association, and then President of the national body.

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LT Hannah defeated ex-English professional Neil Cameron, based out of Palmerston North, in a tight 3-2 victory to take the title for the first time in his amateur career.

But he didn’t have the love for the game any more. “It was the pressure of trying to keep the sport going as president, through a time like COVID. No-one was around, nothing was happening and I asked myself, what is the thing I’m doing that isn’t paying me. I dropped the admin, and then discovered how much better I can do just as a player, without worrying about the organisation.”

He and his son got back into competing in the Robbie Hannah Memorial Tournament, named for his father who died in 2019. The pair won it. Next came a win in Waipukarau, then the Wellington Championships, and a top eight finish in the New Zealand Championships, plus a win in a Palmerston North invitational. The love was back.

As well as his son, LT Hannah – who lives in Porirua - is paying it forward in mentoring local snooker player Cody Turner. Turner is the 2022 winner of the Walter Lindrum ‘Living Legends’ grant, set up by Walter Lindrum’s family to grow cue sports in Australia (and New Zealand).

He says people have forgotten that snooker and billiards were a mainstay of RSA clubs in New Zealand. “I think people have forgotten why the RSA existed. Clubs need to remember that they were formed after the war, for somewhere to go and do something different, and that included playing some sport and having fun. But they get rid of the tables because they think they aren’t being used. That’s why we keep tournaments running in clubs.”

He’s been involved with the Otaki RSA for 40 years and cue sports is growing there, he says. “It’s the same challenge for any sport. We run a junior coaching programme, and people bring their kids in, to introduce them to the game.”

There’s a very large and well-fitted caravan sitting on his driveway and he’s itching to go places with it. Next year he’s taking some leave and his wife are going to hit the road for six months, following the snooker tournaments around New Zealand. “You get a small window in your life, and you could miss it. We’ve decided to take it, travel to tournaments, play on the weekend, and maybe pick up some prize money.” He even attended a NZDF financial seminar at Trentham to scope out whether it was feasible.

He’s not closing the door on Navy. “Career management have been really supportive, and when I was in recruiting, that was all about being on the road. If COVID has taught us anything, it’s taught us about working out of office.”

His latest national win this year means he qualifies for the World Snooker Federation Qualifiers in Sydney in February. “Unfortunately I won’t be available to attend this time around however just knowing I can still compete at this level is amazing. Let’s see what 2024 has in store.”