Maguire leads snooker's Scot invasion
Northern Ireland take on Scotland this evening at Hampden Park and while Nigel Worthington’s men will be cheered on by 5,000 fans crossing the Irish Sea, there will be a return trip next week.
This time though the numbers will be slightly less – five – but while there isn’t great quantity the quality among the quintet coming from Scotland to compete in the Northern Ireland Trophy is hard to beat.
Leading the charge is seven-time World champion Stephen Hendry and other tartan terrors boasting World crowns in their baggage are John Higgins and Graeme Dott.
If Alan McManus can see off Matthew Stevens in the first round he will join them and the others in the second round where they will all be hoping to follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner, Stephen Maguire.
But while he may belong to Glasgow, the world No.2 is in danger of becoming a Belfast boy, as he fondly remembers his visit to the Waterfront Hall last year.
It was something of a second coming for Maguire. In 2004, when he won the European Open and UK Championship he was being tipped to dominate the game for years to come.
His new-found spot in the limelight brought its own distractions and by his own admission his snooker took second place.
Fatherhood and a new-found stability in his life certainly paid dividends as his form over the past couple of seasons has taken him beyond the levels of those 2004 victories.
The catalyst was his win in Belfast last November and as such it is a tournament he holds dear.
“The Belfast Waterfront is an unbelievable venue and we had big crowds for virtually every match,” said the 27-year-old.
“That sort of arena and atmosphere makes me play better, it brings the best out of me. You see all the people watching and getting involved, and it makes you want to put on a good match for them.
“It was so important to me to win it last year because I hadn't won a tournament for three years and I'd forgotten what it was like to pick up a trophy.
“I had one of the hardest draws you can get, playing all of the up-and-coming players around my age, and I had some cracking matches.”
One of those was the final against Fergal O’Brien, where he came through by nine frames to five, and, unbelievably, the draw has thrown the pair together in the second round, where Maguire makes his bow.
That depends on the Dubliner seeing off Michael Holt, but Maguire, who also won the Honghe Industrial China Open last season, has set his sights high for the coming campaign.
“I want to stay in the top two in the rankings and win at least one more tournament,' he added.
And he played down any injury concerns having suffered a suspected cracked rib during a game of badminton last month.
“There are a couple of shots I can't play at the moment, but it should be perfect by the time we go to Belfast, I'll have no excuses,” he concluded.
So never mind the Hampden Roar, Maguire’s ready for the Waterfront Wail.
Tickets for the Northern Ireland Trophy start at just £8.50 (concessions £5.50). To book your seats call 028 9033 4455 or log on to www.waterfront.co.uk.