View Full Version : Stick-ing together (Karen Corr & Julie Kelly)

09-03-2004, 07:37 PM
Irish immigrants Karen Corr (left) and Julie Kelly, of Feasterville, are two of the top billards players in the world.

Stick-ing together

They boldly crossed the Atlantic six years ago, two young Irish women wondering if they would sink or swim in world-class billiards.

They had little in their pockets, which is why they came to America. But Karen Corr and Julie Kelly did have the invaluable confidence that comes from, well, filling pockets on a green felt table.

Being top-notch snooker players in England and Ireland, however, hardly guaranteed success in nine-ball on the Women's Professional Billiard Association tour. But they wanted to test themselves. The transition -- from the vast new culture they initially found lonely and strange, to the fierce competition in a new game - looks relatively seamless in retrospect.

Now residing in Feasterville, Corr and Kelly are no longer strangers in glimmering casinos showcasing WPBA tournaments on ESPN. Corr is the No. 2-ranked women's player in the world. Kelly has climbed to No. 7. Having been inspired by the transatlantic path of brilliant Brit Allison Fisher, the WPBA's frequent No. 1 player -- Corr's chief rival here just as she was on the snooker circuit - Corr and Kelly are regarded as women's sports pioneers of sorts in their little Irish villages.

At Pete Fusco's Family Recreation Center in Feasterville, where they spend countless hours sharpening their game, they are regarded as royalty, their autographed pictures adorning the entrance. Asked if their ascension confirms their reaching the American dream, Kelly smiles and in unbridled brogue says, "Yeah. We decided to come over and see if we could play this game. Obviously we did adapt. A lot of people have gotten to know us. It makes you feel a lot better."

"The opportunity was there," said Corr, called the "Irish Invader" on tour. "The paths laid out that we are able to stay here and make a living, and it's a pleasurable living, too."

The only downside for the close friends is facing each other in competition. Corr has usually had the upper hand. She beat Kelly in the semifinals of a tournament in Las Vegas in May. Kelly's biggest career win, though, came at Corr's expense, defeating her for the 2000 WPA nine-ball title.

"It's hard because both people want to win," Kelly said. "We went through that on the qualifying stages. A lot of places there was only one spot open. Karen got all the spots first, then I started to get some."

Their story is as much about sticking together as it is about sharpening their sticks. When they first arrived in the United States, they lived with Julie's sister near Boston. Their friendship strengthened as they traveled a country that dwarfed their own.

"America's such a big place," Kelly said. "Not a place where a girl comes over and starts traveling on their own. You need somebody to travel with."

They ended up in Feasterville because Julie has a sister nearby, and in Fusco, a former world champion all-around player and excellent teacher, they found a coach.

"They both were tremendous learners, very quick," Fusco said. "I can't say it's so much my doing. I taught them [nine-ball], but they just had the talent.

"Like any sport, it's a lot of practice. They practice real hard, like they're playing for a world title. The truth of the matter is, with pool, you have to have it. Both of those girls are unreal."

Snooker has smaller balls and pockets. Nine-ball is more challenging in its myriad formations and strategies from break to break.

"The way we adapted so quickly was from developing the technique and straight shooting accuracy that we had from snooker," Corr said. "Probably the biggest transition was breaking the balls, developing the speed. I'm still working on it."

Corr knew she had the gift at 14. When her father, a dentist, moved the family to England, her snooker career took off. Yet she often had real jobs - dental receptionist, factory worker, pool hall attendant - because the prize money lagged far behind the cash for the English men. She was the top-ranked woman snooker player in the world for five years but realized only in America could her talents be ably rewarded.

The WPBA doesn't feature many six-figure earners, but it's growing and Corr is at the core of the popularity. Befitting a perennially elite player, she's also got a sponsor, Falcon Cues, while the improving Kelly is still searching. They supplement their WPBA income by giving lessons, exhibitions, and competing in other tournaments.

"It's tough without a sponsor to help with expenses," Corr said. "It's not all rosy. You have to keep winning. And it's hard to have a job and do this. We're still kind of relatively new to the game and getting a face out there."

Clearly, though, six years after crossing the pond, Corr and Kelly aren't fish out of water. They have the stroke to stay afloat in top-level pool.


Hometown: Ballmoney, N. Ireland
Residence: Feasterville
Age: 34
Career highlights: 16 WPBA victories; 2001 WPBA Player of the Year (six wins), No. 1 world ranking; silver medal in 2001 World Games;World snooker champion (England), 1990-91, 1995-97; English Billiards champion 1998-99; 1999 WPBA Rookie of the Year; Currently ranked No. 2, with $88,000 in prize money for 2004.


Hometown: Wexford, Ireland
Residence: Feasterville
Age: 35
Career highlights: 2000 World 9-ball champion; seventime Irish snooker champion, 1993-99; ranked No. 7 in world snooker in 1998; has won state nine-ball championships in New York and Maryland; ranked No. 7 on WPBA tour in 2004.

Dan Dunkin can be reached at 215-949-4210 or ddunkin@phillyBurbs.com.

September 1, 2004 8:49 AM

09-03-2004, 09:07 PM
thanks for sharing

09-03-2004, 09:20 PM
nice story. and they are also 2 of the nicest people you would ever want to meet.. /ccboard/images/graemlins/cool.gif.................mike

09-04-2004, 10:34 AM
I read that article over at AZB. I just can't understand why Julie hasn't been picked up by a sponsor yet. And I think it's just unfair for people to label her 2000 WC title as a "fluke". She was there, she competed, and she WON. She went hill-hill with Karen in the finals and Karen lost to her. They both play "funny" against each other, and I guess it's because they practice with each other all the time and know each other's game. Same with Val Finnie and Kelly Fisher. And Julie told me afterwards that if it hadn't been for wining that WC she was going to pack it up and go back to Ireland.

Well I'm glad she's still here and i hope she continues to improve her game and places better in the WPBA events. Julie brings a lot of fun and a little mischief to any tournament she plays in.

As for Karen, well that finals against Val Finnie for the NJ State 9-ball Championships is one I'm going to remember for a long time. She played like she was in the finals against Allison. Man!


09-05-2004, 04:11 PM
Nice article!

I remember when they were in the Boston area -- musta been early on after they came over -- Karen was already ranked right up there among the top MEN in the weekly handicapped 9-ball tourney in Woburn. I never played her though, since I was mainly there looking for a little One Pocket /ccboard/images/graemlins/smile.gif /ccboard/images/graemlins/smile.gif

09-05-2004, 07:51 PM
Thanks for the article Dawg -

Before I started playing pool - and before I ever got DISH (since I live out in the country and can't get cable) - the first time I ever saw professional pool players play was at Valley Forge in 2002. I hadn't even seen them on TV.

During the finals, I was sitting in the VIP section (courtesy of Dr. D. (thanks again Dr. D.!) who had to leave early) and Julie Kelly sat right next to me! I didn't know anything about anybody at the time, and had no idea who Julie Kelly was and when Karen was playing Allison, I asked Julie who she was rooting for. She looked at me kinda funny and answered "Karen". When I inquired as to "why", she said it's because they come from the same country.

Way too cool. When I bumped into them the next May at Vegas and said "Hi", I believe she recognized me!

Way too fun. Thanks for the article.

09-05-2004, 08:14 PM
I was at the very first tournament those two ever played in. It was a WPBA qualifier event in my home town. They had only been in the States for a few days. Karen won the tournament with ease. I remember they called and said the were snooker players coming from over sees.

09-06-2004, 08:02 AM
I drew Karen in the first round of her first Qualifying event with NEWT in Laurel, MD. I had no idea who she was. She won the first game and in the second game, scratched on the 9. I spotted it, shot it in, and won that game and was thinking I could pull this off.

Ya, right!


09-09-2004, 10:32 PM
With ease????

09-11-2004, 04:39 AM
There are very nice people and have worked very hard, esp Julie who's game was not nearly as strong when she first started on NEWT. Why she hasn't gotten a sponsor, sadly in our shallow looks obsessed society, I think for the women players, this is a big factor. Much lower ranked players, have picked up sponsorship more because of how they look holding a cue than how they use it.
I am sure she will find one as her rank rises, she is a very funny lady and has a good heart. That should count for something? /ccboard/images/graemlins/tongue.gif

09-13-2004, 05:21 AM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote cuechick:</font><hr> There are very nice people and have worked very hard, esp Julie who's game was not nearly as strong when she first started on NEWT. Why she hasn't gotten a sponsor, sadly in our shallow looks obsessed society, I think for the women players, this is a big factor. Much lower ranked players, have picked up sponsorship more because of how they look holding a cue than how they use it.
I am sure she will find one as her rank rises, she is a very funny lady and has a good heart. That should count for something? /ccboard/images/graemlins/tongue.gif <hr /></blockquote>

It is not that Julie looks bad, but that she looks like your mother or a housewive or something. There are just so few sponsors of pool players that they can afford to be very, very fussy. Besides I think those people who are sponsoring pool players have to be doing it as a charity. I know the fact that a pro "uses" a particular product has never sold me on it, and unless the general pool playing public are bigger fools than I think I don't believe they buy products because they are pro endorsed. I wouldn't buy a cuetec because Allison and Earl use them, would you?
If the fan base (therefore buying public) for pool gets bigger people like Julie may get sponsors, but certainly not before. Karen Corr was playing pretty damn sporty, but didn't get a sponsor until she made #1.
The only players I see that MIGHT be cost effective to sponsor would be Allison, Karen, Jeanette because of the "Black Widow" persona, and maybe Vivian because she really attracts attention not because of her pool playing or looks.