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I'll do my hero Alex proud in Belfast, promises White

By Frank Brownlow

Jimmy White is counting down the days until he strides into the Waterfront Hall to battle it out for the Seniors Six Reds World Championship.

White, one of the game's greats who transcends his sport, was big pals with the late Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, one of Belfast's favourite sporting sons.

And the 56-year-old - a reformed hellraiser who has battled alcohol and drug problems - admits it will be an emotional occasion for him when he plays at the iconic Belfast venue on March 3.

"Alex Higgins was my hero, so to play in Belfast, at the superb Waterfront Hall, is very special to me," said White in an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph.

"Alex was a great friend of mine although he could be difficult at times. I got on great with him because he knew how fond of him I was and we just clicked.

"We had some wild times but I'm living the quiet life now!

"It meant so much to me lifting the Alex Higgins Trophy at Goffs," added White, referring to his recent Seniors Irish Masters triumph in Kildare.

"If it wasn't for Alex, snooker wouldn't be in the great shape it is in today, nor would it have been anywhere near as popular as it was back in the day.

"People loved watching Alex - and I include myself in that - because the way he played was so different to all the other players.

"He was what I would call a shot maker. He was snooker's answer to Seve (Ballesteros), a special player," added White, who enjoyed World doubles success with Higgins back in 1984.

And the 'Whirlwind' admits the speed of the six reds version - snooker's answer to cricket's T20 - suits him down to the ground.

"It's a fantastic format, fast and very intense. It suit's me well," said one of the game's most popular ever players.

But will the big Waterfront Hall tournament be the last time White - who overcame testicular cancer back in 1995 - plays competitively in the province?

"I am not at the end of my career but I would say I am in the twilight of my career," he said.

"But while I am playing well I will keep going. I enjoy doing a bit of work for Eurosport and other bits and pieces but I still love playing - it's in the blood.

"It was nice to get the win at Goffs and I am playing okay - my game is in good shape."

Despite finishing third in I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here in 2009, he ruled out going down the reality TV route when he retires - although did admit to having signed up for a future series of Celebrity Hunted.

"Well done to Harry Redknapp for becoming King of the Jungle," said White of his fellow Londoner.

"There weren't as many tournaments back in 2009 and that's why I accepted the invitation to go into the Jungle.

"I don't see myself doing much reality TV in future although I will be in Celebrity Hunted.

"I think the seniors tour will be massive in three or four years, just like golf. So that would be something I would be interested in getting more involved in."

The Waterfront event will see four quarter-finals played in the afternoon with the semi-finals and final to follow that night.

"It will be a brilliant tournament at the Waterfront and what an incentive - £20,000 for the winner," he said. "I know I will have to be at my best with the likes of Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty in the mix.

"I would say that Ken and myself are the sharpest players in the field, simply due to the fact that we still play on the main tour. But the competition will be fierce."

Record seven-time World champion Hendry is still a formidable opponent, and a man who gave White - beaten in six World Championship finals - a few nightmares down through the years.

Seniors World champion Aaron Canavan will also feature, as well as 1986 World champion Joe Johnson.

Dungannon veteran Patrick Wallace is also in the line-up and will fancy his chances of going all the way.

White added: "Six reds on the table, best of seven frames - it will be very intense. It's a short format that I really enjoy and I was Six Reds World Grand Prix champion in 2009 so it's a version of the game I know well.

"The Waterfront Hall is a brilliant venue, one of the best around. It's right up there with Goffs and, of course, the Crucible."

And White is quick to point out that the depth of snooker talent Northern Ireland has produced over the years runs much deeper than Higgins, who passed away in 2010.

"Northern Ireland is a real snooker hotbed because of Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor," said White.

"Joe Swail followed them and now you have Mark Allen who is one of the top players in the world.

"The game is in great nick in Northern Ireland and should be for a long time to come."

White feels snooker is on the right road under Barry Hearn, although admits the golden era - highlighted by Ulsterman Taylor's thrilling 1985 World Championship black ball victory over Steve Davis in front of a record television audience of over 20 million - is unlikely to be repeated.

"Barry Hearn is doing a brilliant job running snooker. If you are a young, talented player today, you are going to make a lot of money - millions," said White.

"You used to hear players saying there weren't enough tournaments.

"Now some of them are saying there are too many. If you don't like it, take a holiday. No-one is forced to play."

White is sure to get the warmest of receptions at the Waterfront.

"It's great that people still cheer for me after all these years," he said. "People have always liked the way I attack, the way I go for my shots and take risks.

"Ronnie O'Sullivan has a similar style and people love watching him as well."

Prepare to be blown away by the Whirlwind.

For tickets tel 90334455 or visit www.waterfront.co.uk

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