PTC Grand Finals Preview

The Players Tour Championship Grand Finals get under way on Tuesday as the event returns to the Bailey Allen Hall in Galway for a second successive year.

Indeed, it’s the third time in Ireland after its inaugural staging was held at The Helix in Dublin in 2011.

Ireland has been a mainstay for professional snooker tournaments for decades.

The Irish Masters was one of the calendar’s biggest invitationals for almost 30 years before it was upgraded to a fully fledged ranking event in 2003.

It only lasted for three seasons under that guise and through scheduling conflicts  was cancelled.

This led to a five-year absence for snooker in the Republic, although Belfast did host the Northern Ireland Trophy from 2005 to 2008 ensuring something substantial was still played on the island.

It was a worrying period for snooker south of the border, though, with stalwarts Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien losing their gusto of old and fellow veterans Michael Judge and Joe Delaney dropping off the Main Tour completely.

Simultaneously, exciting young talent in Vincent Muldoon and Davids Hogan and Morris all flattered to deceive on the circuit and have since already fallen by the wayside.

So it was with great pride and perhaps relief that it was announced in 2010 that snooker would once again be staged in Ireland.

Snooker in the country is small-time in comparison to the activity in clubs all over during the 1980s.

However, there does remain interest with a regular competition involving the world’s best players of the utmost importance in the struggle to raise popularity once again.

The last two years have both been successful. Not great attendances in the opening couple of days have been outweighed by packed auditoriums towards the business end of proceedings.

The clash with the nation’s annual party St. Patrick’s Day, not to mention the 6 Nations, has not been ideal but that may not be of too much concern this year.

Ireland is nowhere placed to do anything of much note in the European rugby event while Paddy’s Day would have a greater chance of effecting the quieter, earlier rounds rather than finals day.

What will help matters even more is the outstanding quality that will be on show at NUIG.

Somewhat unusually, the two previous champions are absent, although for two very different reasons.

Shaun Murphy failed to qualify via the regular PTC satellite series Order of Merit while reigning winner Stephen Lee is suspended as an investigation into his alleged match fixing accusations is concluded.

Alongside Murphy, Matthew Stevens and Ricky Walden are the only Top 16 players who haven’t qualified ensuring that the likes of Judd Trump, Mark Selby, John Higgins, Neil Robertson, Ding Junhui, Mark Allen, Stephen Maguire and Mark Williams are all going to compete for the silverware.

The tie of the opening round is arguably the one involving a pair of this season’s ranking event victors – John Higgins and Ali Carter.

The Scot has enjoyed a particularly better head-to-head record but in a best of 7 format predictions are inevitably more difficult.

Former world number one Mark Selby has an intriguing tie against youngster Jack Lisowski, who is still struggling to make that next breakthrough step into the big time.

Following his recent triumph in the World Open, Mark Allen will be full of confidence and is up first against Mark Davis while fellow Antrim cueist Joe Swail is also in action against Stephen Maguire.

Swail may be classified as an amateur technically but anyone who really considers the two-time World Championship semi-finalist as such needs their head checked.

And there will surely be a rousing reception for Dubliner Ken Doherty out west with the 43 year-old awaiting his first challenge of Kurt Maflin.

Doherty has played much better this season, particularly in the shorter match system used in the PTCs, so, with home support, I wouldn’t rule him out at all.

In fact, I’m going to tip Crafty Ken to get to at least the semi-finals with the quarter of his draw on paper not appearing to be the worst.

That said, my tip for the title is Australia’s Neil Robertson, who will be hoping to go one better than 2012 when he kicks off his campaign against Jamie Burnett on the opening day.

Either way, it promises to be another fantastic week of snooker and hopefully the atmosphere will be as electric as anticipated.

Galway City proved to be a perfect destination last year and the general aura of excitement and goodwill is a big part of the reason the Grand Finals makes its return there.

The full draw can be viewed by clicking here. 

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