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Last Updated: Monday, 16 April 2007, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
NI players chase Crucible dream
By Haydn Parry
BBC Sport

Joe Swail
Joe Swail was twice a world championship semi-finalist
You have to go back 22 years for the last Northern Irish triumph in the World Snooker championships at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.

Dennis Taylor famously took the crown on that occasion but two Ulstermen are daring to dream of victory this time.

Joe Swail is looking to break back into the top 16 in the world rankings and Mark Allen makes his first appearance in his second year as a professional.

Last month Allen qualified for the World Championship for the first time, beating Robert Milkins 10-4, having already defeated Jamie Cope in an earlier qualifier.

Allen admits that this first experience of the World Championship will be a big step up.

"It's very daunting. I remember before I played my last qualifying match last year, I was doing well in my first season and I was sitting in the players lounge talking to Joe (Swail).

"He started to talk about the Crucible being a 'different' feeling, and how there's always a lot more nerves there. I then went out there for the first few frames of my qualifier thinking 'Oh no - if I win this, I'm at the Crucible!'

"But Joe's been brilliant because he always brings me back down to earth like that and this time he's been saying "Just go out and enjoy yourself and the experience will come."

The first round draw could have been kinder to Allen as he's been pitted against Ken Doherty, currently ranked number one in the world.

"It couldn't be any harder on current form. Ken's been around a long time and he will be wanting to keep it tight for the opening frames and frustrate me. But I've really improved my mental strength and that sort of thing won't get to me.

"He's such a good player but, at the end of the day, if you're going to do well in the tournament, these are the sort of players you've got to be beating."

Meanwhile Swail will return to a championship where he's twice reached the semi-final stage (in 2000 and 2001), acquiring a lot of popularity with the crowd in Sheffield along the way:

"Yes, I've always enjoyed it, the first couple of times I went in the mid-nineties, I was in awe of the place. But I started doing well, the crowd took to me and I got to the semi-finals - it was an unbelievable experience.

"Now it's something I want to sample again. It's what you put the hours in for, to bring it all back again."

Swail's first round opponent will be Mark Williams.

He's beaten the Welshman at the Crucible before, in a memorable 13-12 triumph in 2001, at a time when Williams was the reigning champion.

"Its one of the biggest matches I've ever won - that will always live in memory. It would just be nice to reproduce some of that form and hopefully get through that first match.

"You start to look at the bigger picture after you've won that first round match - after that you just don't know what might happen."


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