Belfast Telegraph

Our greatest sports star... who are you going to pick?

To celebrate the 20th Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, sponsored by Linwoods, and taking place on January 26, 2015, we want YOU to decide Northern Ireland’s greatest sports star ever. In alphabetical order, and continuing daily, Steven Beacom assesses the 20 legends shortlisted by a judging panel. Voting details below.

Alex Higgins (snooker): Seven-time world champion and legend of the game Stephen Hendry once said without the influence of Alex Higgins, snooker would never have reached the heights it did in terms of popularity.

The Scot was right.

It was John Lennon who remarked about music 'before Elvis there was nothing'.

The same could be said of the Belfast man and the sport he changed forever.

Higgins, who first picked up a cue when he was nine, took snooker out of the wilderness and into the public eye and did it in the most remarkable fashion.

Nicknamed The Hurricane because of his speed around the table, Higgins became World Champion in 1972 and most memorably of all in 1982 when he defeated Ray Reardon in the final at the Crucible after beating good friend Jimmy White in the semi in one of the best matches ever seen.

Alex finished the final with a stunning century break before crying tears of joy beckoning then wife Lynn and daughter Lauren to join him as the trophy was presented.

It was an emotional time in a roller coaster life.

Higgins was also victorious in numerous other big tournaments including the Masters and famously in the UK Championship in 1983, when he came from 7-0 down to pip Steve Davis 16-15 in the final with the atmosphere at fever pitch. The rivalry between Higgins and Davis was so fierce it was akin to Borg v McEnroe or Coe v Ovett.

Throughout his career Alex found himself in trouble with authority, which only seemed to increase the public's fascination in him and his popularity. Not for nothing was he known as 'The People's Champion'. Higgins died, aged 61, in 2010, but left a legacy that snooker continues to benefit from.

Paddy Hopkirk (rallying)

Half a century has passed since rally car legend Paddy Hopkirk saw off the likes of Mercedes, Porsche and Saab to claim the famous Monte Carlo Rally with Henry Liddon in his Mini Cooper in 1964.

Becoming a household name overnight, Hopkirk's victory is still considered one of the most significant events in the history of the British automobile industry.

And rightly so.

What a magnificent achievement it was.

Not too shabby at all for a colourful and engaging character who when he was 17 saved enough money to buy an old Austin 7 which he rebuilt himself and began rallying.

From then on his destiny was to do great things in his chosen sport.

Hopkirk became a five-time winner of the Circuit of Ireland Rally and two-time winner of the coveted Hewison Trophy in the Irish Rally Championship.

He didn't just deliver at home. Abroad he was also a huge hit claiming numerous international rallying successes including two victories in the Alpine Rally in France, one in Germany and one at the Acropolis Rally in Greece.

Top of the heap though was that never to be forgotten 1964 Monte Carlo triumph, the 50th anniversary of which was celebrated earlier this year.

If you think Lewis Hamilton has his admirers, you should have seen Paddy in his day. The Belfast native was up there with Stirling Moss in terms of popularity.

Hopkirk retired in 1970 after a fantastic career, in which he became renowned in rallying across the globe.

Elected as a life member of the British Racing Drivers' Club in 1967, Paddy, aged 81, remains of the most charismatic figures in Northern Ireland sport.

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