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Ronnie O'Sullivan crashes out of World Championship but he'll star in Belfast bonanza

By Frank Brownlow

Just like golf's Open Championship, big-time snooker is finally on the way back to Northern Ireland - with a £1million bonus thrown in for good measure.

And the man set to be the star of the Belfast show, Ronnie O'Sullivan, made a shock exit at the World Championship at the Crucible, the Rocket beaten 13-9 by Stuart Bingham in the quarter-finals.

Snooker supremo Barry Hearn has confirmed that Belfast will host a new Irish Open ranking tournament in the 2016/17 season.

And with snooker greats like Alex Higgins - world champion in 1972 and 1982 - and Dennis Taylor, winner of that famous 1985 black ball final against Steve Davis, hailing from these parts, it is only fitting that a major tournament will once again be played in Belfast.

The Northern Ireland Trophy was last played in 2008 - at the Waterfront Hall - and won by O'Sullivan.

Hearn said: "This will show the fans that we value their support."

Belfast will join Glasgow and Manchester in 'Home Series' ranking events, alongside the current Welsh Open. If a player wins all those events, he will receive a £1m bonus.

Northern Ireland currently has one player in the elite top 16, Antrim's Mark Allen, while Belfast cueman Joe Swail only just missed out on a place at the World Championship and is relishing the chance to compete in his home city.

"I'm surprised and delighted - this is fantastic as we've been craving professional snooker here for some time," Swail said.

"A big tournament in Belfast is the icing on the cake."

Tour prize money will increase from £8m this season to £8.5m in 2015-16 and £10m in 2016-17.

The winner of the world title will receive £500,000 from the 2017-18 season onwards, with this year's victor set to receive £300,000.

Four men are now left to battle it out for that particular prize.

Bingham will face Judd Trump - 13-4 conqueror of Ding Junhui - in the semi-finals, while Shaun Murphy takes on Barry Hawkins. Murphy beat Anthony McGill 13-8, Hawkins defeating Neil Robertson 13-12.

O'Sullivan was philosophical in defeat. "I was way off the pace. He just pushed me around and I felt second best all match," he said.

"It does catch up with you. If you don't play the minor tournaments, you are going to get left behind. I am not prepared to play in the minor events either though.

"I made so many unforced errors, you could have got away with it in the past but not any more."

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