Belfast Telegraph

Dennis Taylor now at top table of Ireland’s sports stars

By Frank Brownlow

Dennis Taylor will have his status as an Irish sporting great confirmed tonight when he is inducted into the Texaco Hall of Fame in a glittering ceremony in Dublin.

The County Tyrone man will join fellow Ulster legends such as Dame Mary Peters, Willie John McBride, Jack Kyle, Harry Gregg, Danny Blanchflower, Peter Doherty, Fred Daly and Freddie Gilroy in the hall of fame, which celebrates those Irish stars who reached the very pinnacle of their sports.

Eight Texaco Sports Stars awards will also be presented tonight, three of them to Ulster recipients — Grand National winning jockey Tony McCoy, US Open and Ryder Cup winning golfer Graeme McDowell and Ireland Grand Slam rugby star Tommy Bowe.

Taylor will always be remembered for his role in one of sport’s most iconic moments — his dramatic black ball 18-17 victory over Steve Davis in the 1985 World Championship final at the Crucible in Sheffield, a match that had a record 18.5 million television viewers in the early hours of a Monday morning.

Taylor was famous for wearing special ‘upside down’ spectacles when he played, and he quipped last night: “I never thought when I was a kid growing up in Coalisland wearing a pair of National Health glasses I would end up winning the World Championship at the Crucible wearing a pair of upside down glasses!”

And the 61-year-old admitted he felt deeply honoured to be joining the greats of Irish sport in the Texaco Hall of Fame.

“It's a great honour and I feel very privileged to be alongside the greats already in the Texaco Hall of Fame. To be up with people like that is fantastic,” he said.

Taylor’s world title was the highlight of an outstanding career that included winning the Masters at Wembley Conference Centre — when he beat a certain Alex Higgins 9-8 in the final — as well as the Rothmans Grand Prix, the Thailand Masters and the Canadian Masters twice. He was also Irish professional champion six times.

Taylor also played on the Ireland side — with Belfast legend ‘Hurricane’ Higgins and Dubliner Eugene Hughes — that won the world team crown in 1985, ‘86 and ‘87.

He was a household name — along with the likes of Davis, Higgins and Jimmy White — in the glory days of snooker in the 1980s, and is confident that the sport can regain some of its lost popularity, particularly now that sporting impresario Barry Hearn is at the helm.

“If anyone can get snooker back to where it was in the 1980s, it’s Barry Hearn,” said Taylor, now a respected television commentator.

“Barry knows what's needed. After all, he managed to turn darts around.

“There's room for something a bit different in snooker. The recent World Open had shorter matches and the Welsh Open is going down that route as well. Players and television viewers seem to enjoy the shorter matches. It also gives fans the chance to see lots of top players in action on any one day.

“Barry's also taking a tournament to Brazil and the game of snooker is still growing in various other parts of the world.

“There are more very good young players around these days than when the likes of myself and Alex Higgins were coming through,” he said.

“When I was starting out the players were just as good but there weren't so many of them. There are still great players out there now like Ronnie O’Sullivan. I’ve no doubt our own Mark Allen can go on to win the world title.”

Taylor played in the Seniors World Championship in Bradford earlier this month — won by Jimmy White — and still plays in legends events.

“The legends events are great fun with some good snooker played as well,” he said.

Dennis Taylor has long been a legend and is richly deserving of tonight’s accolade.

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