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Rocket in Belfast blast-off

By Frank Brownlow

Ronnie O'Sullivan is set to revolutionise snooker - and Belfast is right at the heart of his groundbreaking plans for the game.

O'Sullivan - who hit the headlines this week for refusing to go for a maximum 147 at the Welsh Open in Cardiff as he felt the £10,000 prize was insufficient, making a 146 instead - will take on Judd Trump at the Waterfront Hall on June 11.

And the Rocket is aiming to land in Belfast on a regular basis.

"We want to stage snooker where the public want it. The Waterfront is a fantastic arena and Belfast is a traditional snooker city," said O'Sullivan, who hammered world number one Mark Selby 5-1 in the quarter-finals of the £325,000 Welsh Open yesterday.

"It's about taking the game to places like Belfast, a great city where there is a demand for top level snooker.

"We will be in Belfast in June and I want to go back again and again.

"The Belfast crowd make you want to perform at your best.

"Taking on Judd means the Belfast fans get to see two of the most exciting players in the world.

"It's the old guard against the new guard," said the 40-year-old five-time World champion.

"I have learned a lot from watching the likes of Judd, Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy and others.

"You have to try and keep up with them. I try to learn from them as you want to be the complete player.

"Top players against other top players is what the public want to see. They want to see the top players matched up, so we are providing a service.

"People want to see Mayweather v Pacquiao, Barcelona v Bayern Munich. They don't want to see Real Madrid against Leyton Orient.

"If television want to get involved, that's great. Hopefully television will get on board," added O'Sullivan of what will be called the Eleven30 Series.

In the head to head with Trump, it will be best of 11 frames with a 30 second limit on a shot - but there will be up to four 'time-outs' which can be called, for example, when tackling a more difficult shot.

"I plan to play faster, more attacking snooker that could revolutionise the sport like T20 cricket," O'Sullivan said.

"I'd like to see it as a new type of snooker. It's going to be a revamped format, one that will excite the spectators.

"I can see television loving it and wanting to make it into a series of events just like T20 cricket. It's rock 'n' roll snooker.

"It needs to be regular for people to engage in it, and stay with it, and support it, which will help make it become established."

O'Sullivan added: "World Snooker have to cater for 128 players in tournaments, but I'm doing the opposite of that. I want the top players involved in my exhibitions.

"With 128 players, you rarely see any big clashes until maybe the last 16."

Despite his good run at the Welsh Open, and with the World Championship starting in April, O'Sullivan claims he doesn't get too excited by tournament action.

"I use these tournaments as preparation for my exhibitions," he said.

"Tournaments are just a shop window to me. They keep my game finely tuned - the standard in tournaments is very high - and help promote my exhibitions.

"There are less restrictions in exhibitions.

"There's no pressure to do well in tournaments. If I win, great. If I lose, no big deal. I really enjoy my exhibitions, playing in front of a crowd who have come to see me play. The fans love it."

The high-flying Rocket is arguably playing the best snooker of his career.

O'Sullivan doesn't agree or disagree. "I am playing a few decent shots and I'm doing okay," he said.

He caused a storm on Monday when playing Barry Pinches in the first round, eschewing the chance of a maximum 147 break and instead settling for a 146 because, apparently, he felt the £10,000 reward should have been greater.

Some called it disrespectful, but the Londoner is having none of it.

"Look, I was just having a bit of fun. It's been a real talking point - and maybe that's good for the game.

"There should be performance related bonuses.

"But it was tongue in cheek," said O'Sullivan, whose infamous 146 was surpassed yesterday when Ding Junhui hit the 147 jackpot in a 5-2 defeat against Neil Robertson.

The snooker season is building to a climax, culminating in the World Championship which starts on April 16.

O'Sullivan's tally of five titles leaves him two short of Stephen Hendry's record, while Steve Davis splits the pair with six Crucible successes.

But O'Sullivan claims catching Hendry is not high on his agenda.

"All I want to do is play," he said. "I could see myself being at the top for another five or 10 years."

Alex Higgins has two World crowns and O'Sullivan admits he derives inspiration from the likes of the late Belfast legend.

"Alex Higgins led the way. The man was a genius. Snooker in the '80s and '90s hit the heights because of what Alex brought to the game. A big salute to Alex Higgins," said O'Sullivan, who feels Antrim's Mark Allen could be close to making the big breakthrough.

"Mark can become World champion. He has the big match temperament, the bottle," he added.

Few would bet against the Rocket racing into the Waterfront come June as a six-time World champion.

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