Snooker: Allen out to shoot down the big guns
Who will raise the Northern Ireland Trophy aloft next Sunday at the Waterfront Hall is anyone's guess - according to one local potter vying to be the cue king of his own land.
Mark Allen gets his campaign underway tomorrow night against Rod Lawler and while the big guns don't make their bow until round two, there is no reason why the winner won't emerge from the opening stage.
The last two ranking events have been won by Dominic Dale and Marco Fu and the likes of Allen, and compatriot Joe Swail who also begins tomorrow against Liu Song, will fancy their chances of keeping the upsets going.
"If you look at the last two tournaments the winners have come from outside the top 16 in the world," explained Allen, who is currently No.29 in the world.
"Dominic Dale won the first of the year and Marco Fu won the Grand Prix last weekend, while Neil Roberston won two tournaments last year and has come through as an household name now, and I think that shows the strength in depth of snooker now. Anyone can beat anyone on a particular day.
"I think a lot of people were surprised that the likes of Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins and Stephen Hendry aren't always at the later stages of tournaments, but it's not because the standard of their performance is going down, it's because everyone else is closing the gap."
Last season, Ding Junhui pocketed the Northern Ireland Trophy, a result that was also something of a shock, although Allen's eyebrows weren't just as raised as many pundits.
"It was no surprise to me that Ding Junhui won the tournament last year, " he stated.
"I know Ding quite well and I knew he was practising all summer, so it was no surprise to me that he came through and won.
"This being the third tournament of the year, everyone will be pretty sharp, and I'm sure everyone will have been putting the hours in."
NORTHERN IRELAND TROPHY DRAW: Round One (Best of nine frames) Joe Perry v James Wattana; Stuart Bingham v David Gray; Ian McCulloch v Alan McManus; Jamie Cope v Lee Walker; Marco Fu v Adrian Gunnell; Joe Swail v Liu Song; Matthew Stevens v Martin Gould; Anthony Hamilton v Michael Judge; Mark Allen v Rod Lawler; Dominic Dale v Mike Dunn; Gerard Greene v Liang Wenbo; Mark King v John Parrott; Michael Holt v Tom Ford; Nigel Bond v David Gilbert; Barry Hawkins v Jamie Burnett; Dave Harold v Fergal O'Brien.
SUNDAY'S ORDER OF PLAY: 10.00am - Joe Perry v James Wattana; Ian McCulloch v Alan McManus.
3.00pm - Stuart Bingham v David Gray; Jamie Cope v Lee Walker; Joe Swail v Liu Song.
7.30pm - Marco Fu v Adrian Gunnell; Mark Allen v Rod Lawler; Dominic Dale v Mike Dunn.