The Home Nations Series event generates a fantastic atmosphere and last year the crowd were jubilant after home hero Mark Allen lifted the crown.
The Antrim Ace made the final of the British Open earlier this month, and although the Pistol was beaten 10-7 into the runners-up spot by Ryan Day, the defending champion has certainly arrived in Belfast in good form.
|What||Northern Ireland Open|
|Where||Waterfront Hall, Belfast|
|When||Starts 10:00am, Sunday 16th October 2022|
|How to watch||Eurosport 1|
|Odds||Neil Robertson 5/1, Ronnie O’Sullivan 11/2, Judd Trump 13/2 , Mark Selby 10/1, Mark Allen 14/1, John Higgins|
As always the draw plays a key-part of the Home Nation Series. Allen is the 3/1 favourite to progress from the first quarter and it appears that the Pistol has been housed in a fairly kind section. Of course, Kyren Wilson is a talented performer and the Warrior will be a major force if he can repeat the form that saw him lift the European Masters earlier this season.
However, that is far from guaranteed and perhaps these short-format best-of-seven-frames matches fail to bring out the best of the Kettering performer. Three-time world champion Mark Williams is more than a match for anyone on his day and the Welshman is certainly a force in the first quarter. However, the Welsh Potting Machine has only just returned from a trip to the Hong Kong Masters, and after a first-round defeat in that event, Williams won’t have had much table time.
The second quarter of the draw looks a difficult section to negotiate. Top potters Judd Trump and John Higgins line up alongside fellow top-level performers Shaun Murphy, Stuart Bingham and Dave Gilbert. Whoever progresses to the quarter-final from that collection of bazie battlers will have certainly earned their spot. The third section of the 128-potter line up looks potentially even more competitive.
Neil Robertson, Ding Junhui, Barry Hawkins, Mark Selby and Jack Lisowski, amongst others, have all been packed into the same part of the draw and it will be interesting to see who emerges on top. Ronnie O’Sullivan is tucked away in the fourth quarter and the Rocket does look to hold strong claims from that position. The Chigwell cueman will face Lukas Kleckers in a held-over qualifying contest and David Grace is round one proper.
Luca Brecel will also have to negotiate a held-over qualification contest and the Belgian Bullet is an interesting contender. The 27-year-old has developed a far more consistent profile in the last couple of seasons. Brecel won the Championship League earlier this year and last term the Belgian lifted the Scottish Open crown and made it to the final of the UK Championship.
Allen lifted the Northern Ireland prize in front of a exultant home crowd in Belfast last year and the Antrim Ace is relishing the opportunity to defend his title.
“I can’t wait. Winning it last year takes a bit of the pressure off me, and I hadn’t handled that too well in the past,” said the 36-year-old.
“That final – even if I had lost I would have said it was the best atmosphere I have ever experienced. I’ll never forget that and it was such a proud moment for me. The noise that went around the arena when I potted the brown to win is something I will never forget and still gives me goosebumps. I’d love to try to replicate that again this year.”
It has been a fairly lean time for snooker players, with no tournaments in China and the days of the European Tour events over. The British Open was a welcome return to action for the bulk of the main tour and this represents the final opportunity to qualify for the Champions of Champions event, which is staged at the end of October.
That’s a prestigious tournament and it’s another prize riding on the action in Northern Ireland. The likes of O’Sullivan, Selby, Trump, Higgins and Robertson have already booked their place in Bolton and it will be interesting to see who joins that illustrious line-up. The action gets underway with the held-over qualifiers at 10am on Sunday morning and we should be in for some tremendous baize action in Belfast.