Dennis Taylor: 'Alex Higgins and I blew hot and cold but our infamous row was a storm in a teacup'
Legend Dennis Taylor on our potential next world champion and upcoming NI Open
Dennis Taylor has a dream - he wants to see Northern Ireland produce another world snooker champion.
This season marks the 35th anniversary of Taylor's legendary black ball triumph over Steve Davis, the last time an Ulsterman was on top of the snooker world.
And Taylor - who turned 70 this year - feels having a Northern Ireland champion is long overdue.
He is sure that the Northern Ireland Open - which takes place at the Waterfront Hall next month - is a big boost to the game here, allowing youngsters to see the stars of today in action in the flesh.
The £400,000 tournament - Mark Selby is still in the running for a £1m bonus after winning the English Open - may help inspire future stars from these parts but that will be a few years down the line.
"It's brilliant that Northern Ireland has a big tournament again, especially at the Waterfront Hall which is a terrific venue," he said.
"We need top-class snooker in Northern Ireland. The public will support it and it means local youngsters can go along and watch the top players live, which can only be a good thing.
"Obviously Mark Allen will have a big following at the Waterfront and is our big hope in terms of winning the world title," said Taylor, the 1985 world champion, whose dramatic 18-17 victory over the great Davis was watched by a post-midnight record television audience of almost 20 million people.
"Mark has all the ability in the world. He has a short cue action, gripping the cue lightly, which is very effective in the modern game.
"He definitely has the game to win the World Championship and he wants it badly. He just needs to take that next step and there is no reason he can't do that.
"I think the longer matches and the longer tournament suits him - I hope so, my triumph is too long ago to remember!"
Allen revealed recently that he is operating without a coach this season - and Taylor feels that is a good move.
"I am not a big fan of players having coaches. If you put enough practice in you shouldn't need a coach. The mental side of things is more important," said the Coalisland man.
"I would love to see the next Mark Allen emerge from Northern Ireland but it's difficult to know when that will happen.
"China and the Far East is the hotbed of talent these days. They play the game in the schools over there and it's massive.
"The prize for the world champion is approaching the £1m mark so the financial incentives are there to be successful in snooker. But the route to the top isn't easy. Winning the world title isn't easy - Jimmy White never managed it despite being one of the greats," added Taylor, referring to the Whirlwind's heartbreaking six final defeats.
And despite hitting 70 years of age, Taylor is refusing to slow down. He still commentates for the BBC and is also playing on the seniors tour.
"I am back practising for the new season and really enjoying it," he said.
"The tournaments are open to over 40s but I think they should be for over 70s! Myself and Cliff Thorburn would have a better chance!"
And as for the season ahead on the main tour, Taylor feels Judd Trump will set the standard.
"Trump is the top man at the moment. He is a class act," he said.
"Ronnie O'Sullivan is still a tremendous player when he is in the mood. He picks and chooses his tournaments now. When he is fully focused he is still the man to beat.
"Judd is one of the few players who is not afraid of Ronnie.
"Shaun Murphy is back winning and back in form. Mark Allen is there or thereabouts and always dangerous. Mark Selby is a threat. Neil Robertson is close to breaking through again.
"When you look at the likes of Mark Williams and John Higgins, you would have to say that these days it's not a young man's game.
"I was 36 when I won the world title and people still stop me to talk about it.
"People still mimic the lifting of the cue and the upside down glasses.
"The audience was 18.5million, a record after midnight.
"I wouldn't have won the world title but for the glasses. I had used contact lenses before that but then fellow commentator Jack Carnham got me sorted with the glasses and they transformed my game because then I could actually see the balls!
"I wouldn't say winning the world title changed my life. I didn't move house or have a different lifestyle. But people's attitude to you changes. Everybody wants to talk to you. It was nice in that way."
And Taylor looks back with fondness on his return to Northern Ireland as the new world champion.
"One of my happiest memories was playing an exhibition on the Shankill Road a few days after winning at the Crucible. I had been booked to do it long in advance and there was no way I was going to let them down. The atmosphere was electric - the reception they gave me was something I will never forget."
Taylor's triumph came in a golden age for Northern Ireland snooker, Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins securing the Crucible crown amid emotional scenes in 1982.
Like many players, Taylor had his ups and downs with Higgins - who threatened to have his fellow Ulsterman shot - but he speaks highly of the Belfast legend.
"One fallout between Alex and myself was blown out of all proportion. I always got on well with him. In fact, when he first moved to England I helped get him sorted out with accommodation and helped him settle in," he said.
"Alex has played a massive role in putting snooker on the map, becoming a big star on Pot Black and that's when the game really took off.
"Other players also went on to become stars thanks to television. Nowadays the world's top players are more famous in China than back at home."
And Taylor is backing snooker chief Barry Hearn to keep taking the game in the right direction.
"Barry Hearn was at the heart of the game in the 1980s and '90s so he knows the formula for success. The game is in good shape," said Taylor, who also has a Masters and Grand Prix success to his name.
"The Masters victory was very special because I came back from 8-5 down to beat Alex 9-8. I always credit Alex's manager with that victory. Word got back to me that with Alex 8-5 up, his manager was already ordering celebratory champagne. That was all the motivation I needed!" he smiled.
Taylor will watch the action unfold this season and hope for some Northern Ireland success.
But whatever happens, nothing will match the drama of '85.
• The Northern Ireland Open runs from November 11 to 17 at the Waterfront Hall. For tickets, visit www.waterfront.co.uk or tel 028 9033 4455.