2015’s Q-School gets under way on Thursday as amateur players from 22 different countries attempt to graduate onto the Main Tour at the Meadowside Leisure Centre in Burton.
In total, there are 166 competitors vying for the eight available spots, from countries as far away as Canada, USA, Singapore, China, Russia, Pakistan, Israel, Turkey and Qatar.
The majority of those competing, though, naturally hail from the British Isles and attention now turns to whether any Irishmen can join the professional ranks.
Currently, there are just three names from the Republic on the circuit – longstanding members Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien, as well as 26 year-old David Morris.
A handful of hopefuls are making the short trip across the Irish Sea to see if they have what it takes in the testing best of seven format.
For TJ Dowling, it’s a chance for redemption after he came agonisingly close to a Main Tour place only last month when he narrowly lost in the final round of the EBSA Play-Offs to Sanderson Lam.
“I was devastated,” admitted the TerryRogers Snooker Club player. “Just coming a couple a frames short of cracking it and getting on to the tour was very, very hard to take.
“But I’m a different character now than what I was a couple of years ago. My attitude now is you can mope around feeling sorry for yourself or you can get back up on the horse and soldier on.
“I arrived home late on a Thursday night, had a few good hard days on the shandies and it was back to business Tuesday morning. I was up in the club practicing and planning out Q-School.
“My attitude and practice have been very similar as they were for the play-offs. I’m up in TerryRogers most days getting my game in good shape. If the work is done you’re giving yourself a great chance.”
Dowling, a twice former Irish national champion, takes on England’s Ashley Carty in the opening round of the first tournament, with each player getting two bites of the cherry in the coming ten days.
“He’s had a great year as a ‘top up’ amateur. He reached the last 32 of two professional ranking events this season, the German Masters and the Welsh Open.
“I played him in the Gdynia Open in Poland in March and I beat him 4-2, so I’ll be going into this match with the same attitude and hoping for the same result. All I can do over there is be determined, be focused, be as relaxed as I can, and I know myself I have an excellent chance of qualifying.
“I’ve great belief in my ability. If you give it your all you have no excuses and I’ll surely be peppering it out over there so here’s hoping.”
Meanwhile, making his debut appearance in Q-School this year is Cork’s Greg Casey.
The 24 year-old has been a consistent performer on the domestic scene for a decade now and has featured in several of the Irish squads to have competed in international events in recent years.
Casey is ranked in the top five in the Irish rankings this season, but it all humbly began down at his local club with his father.
“I first played snooker when I was about 10 years old,” recalled the Crucible club cueist.
“I used to go to the club with my dad to watch and then decided to try playing. I was naturally quite good so I loved the game and started playing a lot.
“I only played my dad at first because I was quite shy to ask others for a frame, but then I got to the stage where I was making lots of breaks so he used to not like playing me as much – mostly because he couldn’t beat me anymore.
“I won back-to-back under-14 national titles when I was 13 and I won the national under-21 Championship, but I would think my biggest achievement was winning the Senior Home Internationals with the Irish Team as only 19 Irish players in history have ever won it, including us.”
Casey has not so far been one of the players to have travelled to the European Tour events but does have considerable international experience having reached two European Under-19 quarter-finals, as well as one contest with the recent World Championship runner-up to draw experience from.
“I played Shaun Murphy on Eurosport in the World Series of Snooker when it came to Ireland. Even though I lost I felt it was a high point in my career as I got to see a top player in full flow and how good they really are. It was also nice to get a taste of the set up with TV cameras and crowds inside a big arena.
“My prep for Q-School has been good. I’m doing lots of match play and a couple of hours on my own in between to keep everything sharp. I know if I can play the way I can I will be there or thereabouts towards the end of the tournament.
“My confidence is high and I can’t wait to just play and get stuck in. I’m into round two already and I know if my old friend Michael Collumb wins his first match then I play him, which would be a good tough test to start with.
“I know Michael a long time so we would both be giving it our all for the bragging rights.
“I know it sounds like what every player says, but it really would mean everything to me to qualify. It’s what you dream about when you start playing snooker and start winning tournaments, and watch it on TV. You’d just love to be in their shoes and, the way I see it, this is a chance to take a step further towards being in those shoes.
“Just to play all these great players you see all the time would be great, to compete with them even better. To put in the hard work like they do and and then even beat them would be the icing on the cake.”
Somebody with plenty of Q-School experience is Josh Boileau, having previously tried and failed in the 2012 and 2013 editions.
“I’m feeling pretty confident,” said the 19 year-old, who is hoping to make it third time lucky in the tournament.
“I think the fact I’ve played it before gives me a slight edge in the fact I know what to expect, but no huge advantages.
“The preparation is going pretty well. I’m putting in a lot of practice hours now for this. I just haven’t had a lot of match practice lately, though, so that could be a factor for me.
“I’ve just looked at my first round matches, one match at a time is all you can do really. You can’t be looking ahead to future rounds before reaching them.
“But I’m happy enough with my draws, it’s going to be tough no matter who you get so it doesn’t bother me really.”
Former pro Leo Fernandez, who qualified for the 1999 World Championship at the Crucible, along with Dessie Sheehan and Chris Kilcoyne, are other Irish names in the draw.
The best of luck to all of them taking part in the competition over the coming few days.