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Mark King wins the Northern Ireland Open

Mark King at the table during Sunday night's final of the Northern Ireland Open
Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Martin McGoran at the Titanic Exhibition Centre

MARK KING won the Coral Northern Ireland Open in Belfast on Sunday, with a 9-8 win over fellow Londoner Barry Hawkins at the Titanic Exhibition Centre.

King becomes the first man to lift the Alex Higgins Trophy, as well as pocketing a winners' cheque for £70,000. Hawkins went into Sunday's best-of-17 final as favourite despite having a tougher semi-final on Saturday. He cruelly denied Anthony Hamilton, quarter-final conqueror of Mark Allen, in a deciding frame (6-5) on Saturday night after King had caused a mild surprise with his 6-2 win over Kyren Wilson in the other last four clash.

But Hawkins showed why he was favourite as he took advantage of his opponent's nerves to take a 2-0 lead with breaks of 85 and a 113 clearance. King hit back to open his account with a century of his own, a 110 clearance being his first of the week, but Hawkins turned the screw by winning the next three in a row to move 5-1 ahead.

At that stage, in the best-of-17 encounter, King really needed to win the last two frames of the afternoon session to stand any chance. Not only did he do that, but he also added the first four of the evening session to move 7-5 ahead, helped by breaks of 62, a 100 clearance and 54.

The mid-session interval, though, came at the wrong time for King as Hawkins closed the gap to one with a break of 73 and then levelled with a 76 clearance. But it was King who moved ahead again at 8-7, cashing in on a fluked red for a frame-winning contribution in frame 15.

Frame 16 was the longest of the final and Hawkins took it on a respotted back to force a decider, but King held his nerve better to clinch victory. Mark Allen prepared to head to York for the start of the UK Championships this week with the weight of the world off his shoulders. The two Londoners were locked in battle for the £70,000 first prize in front of a big crowd at the Titanic Exhibition Centre with King, playing in his first ranking event final for 12 years, edging ahead at 8-7, despite having trailed 5-1 in the afternoon session.

Allen, meanwhile, never found his best form at any stage of the week, making a disappointing exit at the quarter-final stage on Friday evening, beaten 5-2 by Anthony Hamilton. The Antrim man was brutally honest in his assessment of his week, admitting that he was ''glad the torture was all over.''

''To be honest I struggled all week,'' he said.

''I didn't handle the occasion, I didn't handle being the home favourite and eventually somebody was going to play well against me. Anthony did that and he deserved his win. 'I'm happy that I can go to York now and relax and look forward to playing well, because I think my game is in good shape,'' he added.

Allen was keen to stress that his admissions were more a reflection of him than the Belfast crowds: ''The crowds were brilliant all week, not just to me but to all the players," he said.

''It's terrific that a ranking tournament has come to Belfast and I will be doing my utmost to make sure that it comes back again next year, whether it is at the Titanic or at a different venue. Hopefully if it does, I will handle it better.''

After taking Allen's scalp, Hamilton was cruelly denied a place in his first final in 14 years, when he lost 6-5 to Hawkins in Saturday evening's second semi-final, after King had caused a mild surprise with his 6-2 win over Kyren Wilson in the other last four clash.

But despite having a tougher semi-final, Hawkins went into yesterday's final as favourite and he soon showed why as he took advantage of his opponent's nerves to take a 2-0 lead with breaks of 85 and a 113 clearance. King hit back to open his account with a century of his own, a 110 clearance being his first of the week, but Hawkins turned the screw by winning the next three in a row to move 5-1 ahead.

At that stage in the best-of-17 encounter, King really needed to win the last two frames of the afternoon session to stand any chance. Not only did he do that, but he also added the first four of the evening session to move 7-5 ahead, helped by breaks of 62, a 100 clearance and 54.

The mid-session interval, though, came at the wrong time for King as Hawkins closed the gap to one with a break of 73 and then levelled with a 76 clearance. But it was King who moved ahead again at 8-7, cashing in on a fluked red for a frame-winning contribution in frame 15.

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