Northern Ireland snooker hasn’t had it so good since the heyday of world champions Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor.
That’s the view of Joe Swail, part of the triple Northern Ireland assault on the World Championship.
Belfast cueman Swail, twice a Crucible semi-finalist, goes into his first round match against Marco Fu just weeks after reaching his first-ever ranking final, the Welsh Open. “It’s great to see three local players in the first round. We’re back to the glory days!” said ‘The Outlaw’.
“I know that if I play well I can beat anyone on my day. I have really put in the work ahead of Sheffield and hopefully it will pay off.
“It’s been a bit of an up and down year for me. Apart from the Welsh Open I haven’t done that well in the other tournaments.
“I played my qualifier (against Matthew Couch) after the Welsh Open so I went into it with a bit of confidence and got the result I needed.
“Getting to the Crucible is vital because otherwise your season runs into a bit of a dead end.
“I can’t wait to get out there onto the table.
“It will be a very competitive tournament — most of the players will feel they have a real chance.”
Completing the trio along with Swail and Mark Allen is Gerard Greene, London-born of Northern Ireland parents.
Greene knocked out Dublin’s former World champion Ken Doherty in the final qualifying round but will have his work cut out to get past in-form Ali Carter, who beat Swail in that Welsh Open final and was runner-up to Ronnie O’Sullivan in last year’s World Championship.
“I’m playing well and if I take my chances Ali Carter will have to play really well to beat me,” said Greene, who will generate plenty of interest in Belfast when he’s in action.
He explained: “My mum and dad are both from Belfast so when I turned professional I chose to represent Northern Ireland and have played in the Nations Cup a few times. Most of my family live in Belfast.”
Greene starts out against Carter tomorrow night, playing to a finish on Sunday afternoon, while Swail takes on Fu on Monday morning, finishing on Monday night.
The winner is the first to 10 frames.