Northern Ireland can rule the world at snooker.
That’s the verdict of Dennis Taylor, who would love to see a return of the World Team Championship in snooker’s brave new world.
An all-Ireland team won the event for three successive years from 1985 — Taylor, Alex Higgins (pictured below) and Dubliner Eugene Hughes the line-up — before the governing body decided to have separate Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland teams.
And it was while on duty with the Northern Ireland side that Taylor had a well-publicised spat with Higgins when the ‘Hurricane’ — who died last month at the age of 61 — threatened to have his teammate shot.
The pair were not on speaking terms for several years afterwards before patching up their differences.
“Alex and I put it all to bed some years ago and I was so sad to hear of his passing. He was a special talent,” said Taylor.
“I would like to see a team World Championship event back in snooker.
“Ireland won it in 1985, ’86 and ’87 and then they split us up into Northern Ireland and the Republic and we almost won it again. So it would be great to see it back.
“Even something along the lines of a challenge match between Europe and the Rest of the World would be a step in the right direction,” said Taylor, who won the World Championship in 1985 in dramatic fashion when the final against Steve Davis went all the way to the final black and was watched by 18.5 million people on television well after midnight.
Taylor feels Northern Ireland would have a decent chance against any other country in three-man team snooker with Antrim’s Mark Allen now one of the world’s top players, while Belfast’s Joe Swail and Kent-based Gerard Greene are experienced top level campaigners.
The World Cup brings back memories of snooker’s golden age when Canada, Wales and England were the dominant forces before Ireland took charge of the event.
Canada won in 1982 and included in their line-up one of sport’s truly great characters, the late ‘Big’ Bill Werbeniuk who, it was said, consumed several pints of beer before each match before settling into a rhythm of one pint per frame.
The best of 35 frame World Championship final would have been quite a challenge.
Today’s players sip nothing stronger than water during matches, but surely Taylor makes a sound case with a call for a world team event.
He would also love to see professional snooker back in Belfast and is hopeful that the sport’s new chief, Barry Hearn, will put that right.
“It’s a shame the Northern Ireland Trophy isn’t still being played and it would be nice to see an event back in Belfast. There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be one,” said Taylor.
“Barry Hearn will certainly help to get snooker back on the right track again.
“It got a little bit stale. The people running the game were not going forward with it and Barry was involved in the game back in the 80s when it was such a success.
“Barry will certainly change some things but I don’t think he will alter the World Championship much.
“The World Championship decides the best player in the world that particular year and I would think it will remain close to its usual format.
“The other tournaments could be chopped and changed a bit but it will come down to what the television companies want.
“People have more choice nowadays so viewing habits have changed,” said the 61-year-old, who will contest the Senior World Championship in Bradford in November against fellow legends such as Davis, Jimmy White and Cliff Thorburn.
Alex Higgins had been due to compete as well. It will be a poignant occasion.
NORTHERN IRELAND: Mark Allen, Joe Swail, Gerard Greene
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Ken Doherty, Fergal O’Brien, Michael Judge
ENGLAND: Ronnie O’Sullivan, Ali Carter, Shaun Murphy
WALES: Mark Williams, Ryan Day, Ricky Walden
SCOTLAND: John Higgins, Stephen Maguire, Stephen Hendry
CHINA: Ding Junhui, Liang Wenbo, Anda Zhang
REST OF WORLD: Neil Robertson (Australia), Tony Drago (Malta), Bjorn Haneveer (Belgium)
AND ONE FOR OLD TIMES SAKE ...
CANADA (World Cup winners 1982): Cliff Thorburn, Kirk Stevens, Jim Wych