Jordan Brown the home star as Joe Swail and Mark Allen set to enter the fray
JORDAN BROWN led an Irish hat-trick on day one of the Coral Northern Ireland Open at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast with a superb 4-2 victory over world number 26 Ben Woollaston.
The 29-year-old from Antrim - playing on one of two wild cards from the local amateur game - followed up fine wins earlier in the day for Kildare’s Josh Boileau and Dubliner Fergal O’Brien to send the home fans home happy.
Brown played one season on the Pro Tour in 2009/10 but the experience hasn’t dulled his ambition and though he has been plying his trade mostly on the amateur circuit since, he showed tremendous character and no shortage of class in front of his family and close friends to fend off a mid-match fightback from his more experienced opponent.
‘‘It’s certainly the biggest win of my career since I beat John Higgins in 2012 (in a European Tour event) and to do it in front of the people who mean the most to me is a great feeling,’’ said Brown.
The Antrim man settled quickly into his stride with runs of 51 and 102 giving him a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven encounter. Woollaston only managed eight points in those first two frames but he took frame three before levelling the match with a run of 76.
It was a true test of character for Brown now but rather than crumble he showed his battling qualities by taking frame five on the black (57-56) before going on to comfortably take frame six 72-15 and progress to the second round, where he will face either Kyren Wilson or Hammad Miah.
‘‘Frame five was obviously the critical point of the match,’’ said Brown.
‘‘I was very happy with the way I settled but I fully expected him to come back at me, so I was ready for it and it gives me tremendous self-belief that I was able to respond. The crowd gave me a great buzz too and I’m looking forward to tonight, enjoying this win and then getting a good day’s practise tomorrow before my next match on Wednesday.’’
Boileau and the veteran O’Brien progressed to round two with wins over Mike Dunn (4-3) and Tian Pengfei (4-2) respectively. Boileau now faces Hamza Akbar of Pakistan, while O’Brien will take on Mitchell Mann.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, now ranked eight in the world, was the top draw on the opening evening and he didn’t disappoint the fans who turned up to see him. A 131 in the opening frame of his match against David John was followed by an 86 in frame two and although his opponent did get on the board in frame four after O’Sullivan had also taken frame three, the Rocket bettered his opening salvo and set the running for the highest break of the week with a 133 to clinch the match.
Belgium’s Luca Brecel pulled off the biggest shock on day one with a whitewash of world number five Shaun Murphy. The world number 30 took less than an hour to move into round two, firing in breaks of 83, 83, 117 and 55 as the 2005 World champion failed to land a blow, scoring just eight points in the four frames.
With the top three in the world rankings all sitting the event out, Murphy had started the tournament as the second highest ranked player in the field behind world number four Ding Jungui, but that honour now belongs to world number six John Higgins, a 4-0 winner over Paul S Davison yesterday in his bid for a third successive tournament win.
Other big names to get through without dropping a frame were world number nine Joe Perry and number 11 Barry Hawkins against Itaro Santos and Martin O’Donnell respectively.
IT COULD get even better for the home contingent on day two on Tuesday, with Mark Allen, the best chance of a home winner on Sunday, joining the action alongside Joe Swail, Ken Doherty and Patrick Wallace.
World number 10 Allen is strongly fancied to go a long way and he starts off with a tricky clash against world number 44 Mark Joyce, a player who has beaten the Antrim man on four of the five occasions they have met as professionals.
Swail, on the other hand, will have to pinch himself to believe that he is once more playing in a ranking event in his home city at the age of 47. The man from the Market - who plays Dominic Dale on Tuesday afternoon - dropped off the Main Tour in 2012 and looked for all money as though his career could be over, but he hauled himself back into the world’s top 64 the following year and has done enough to keep his place there since.
He does admit that he could do with a good run in a ranking event to hold his position and says there would be no better place to do it than Belfast this week: ‘‘If you’d told me three or four years ago that I’d get another opportunity like this, to play in Belfast in a professional ranking event, I’d probaly have laughed,’’ says Swail.
‘‘But I’m hanging in there and still believe in myself enough to know that I can still make an impact in the ranking events. All the matches are best-of-seven sprints and anybody can beat anybody on their day, so that gives me encouragement that a good run in a tournament is coming, and it would be great if it was this week.’’
Swail has been concentrating on the coaching side of the game, as well as the playing side, in recent years, something which has caused him to reflect more on his own career: ‘‘You never stop learning about the game. Even the very best players will tell you that, and I feel since I started coaching it has given me a different insight into my own game down through the years.
‘‘I still think I have plenty to offer even now, but have always struggled for consistency, and that is something that was maybe missing on the mental side of the game. I feel that since I started coaching I have learned things on the mental side which I wish I could have applied to my game in the past. But it’s not a big regret and I try not to dwell too much on what has happened in previous years and keep the belief that I can still compete with the best of them.’’
Dungannon’s Patrick Wallace, given a wild card as Northern Ireland champion and number one in the NIBSA rankings, takes on former World U21 champion Michael Georgiu at 8pm, while 1997 World champion Ken Doherty is in action at 7pm against Alastair Hugill.
The action starts again at 10am and two of the most intriguing matches from the 32 scheduled are the all-Scottish clash between Stephen Maguire and Alan McManus at 1pm and the meeting of Marco Fu and Ryan Day at 8pm.