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Page last updated at 18:34 GMT, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 19:34 UK

Maguire aiming to retain NI title

By Richard Petrie
BBC Sport NI

Stephen Maguire
Stephen Maguire lifted the Northern Ireland Trophy last year
Stephen Maguire will put concerns about the financial future of top-level snooker to one side to defend his Northern Ireland Trophy title in Belfast from 24 to 31 August.

The 27-year-old Scot says he and his fellow professionals were shocked to learn of the recent loss of sponsorship for two of the circuit's major events.

The showpiece of the season, The World Championship, and The Masters have both lost their sponsors for 2008/09.

"I'm definitely concerned about the financial side of things.

"All the boys are talking about it and we've all been on the phone to each other wondering what is going to happen," said Maguire.

"I think we'll be alright this year but we are all a bit worried about the following two years.

"It's not good for any sport to be losing sponsors and we are just hoping that there will be some good news soon and hopefully we will get a big sponsor to take over the World Championship, and maybe a few other tournaments as well.

"I'd also like to see more events, including some maybe in May or June, as it gives you more to practice for, and the new tournament in Bahrain in November is a step in the right direction.

"News about losing sponsors is not good and I was not pleased to read about that but hopefully everyone can get their act together and manage to get somebody else in.

"All the players are quite friendly with each other so I hope there is never a split in the sport as it would be sad to lose the other half that I was not playing with.

"I don't think it would be good for the sport and I just hope some money comes in sponsorship-wise and we don't go down that line."

Sir Rodney Walker, Chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, has denied that the loss of two major sponsors heralds a 'crisis' for the game, pointing out that prize money for this season has increased by 250,000.

As world-ranked number two and defending champion, Maguire will be fully focused on the action on the table at The Waterfront Hall next week and a second-round match with Fergal O'Brien, whom he beat in last year's final, is on the cards.

Irishman O'Brien must first overcome Michael Holt in his first round encounter.

"It is hard to believe that there could be a repeat of last year's final at such an early stage and neither of us will want to go home at the start of the week," said Maguire.

I have played Ronnie at Wembley and enjoyed that, so if I come up against some of the Northern Ireland lads, I will just look forward to it

Stephen Maguire

"It wasn't a surprise to be playing Fergal in the final last year as he had been playing well again after a couple of lean years but it just took him a while to come through the rankings again.

"I watched some of his matches and the fact that he beat John (Higgins) and Ronnie (O'Sullivan) showed that he was in very good form.

"I knew I would have to play as well as I had done in the previous rounds to win and that was how it turned out."

Maguire came through a tough draw last year, overcoming Ding Junhui, Neil Roberston and Shaun Murphy on his way to the decider and Robertson, Higgins, Stephen Hendry, Peter Ebdon and Mark Selby are all in his half of the draw this time round.

"To be honest, I haven't looked any further ahead than Michael or Fergal in the second round and I don't really sit down and analyse the draw for the big tournaments.

"Whoever I play, I know I have to play well on the day to win and I don't mind just showing up on the day and playing whoever is put in front of me."

Maguire also won the China Open last season and reached the final of the UK Championship.

"There are only seven ranking tournaments on the calendar so winning two of them and reaching the final of another represents a good season.

"I knew my form was alright but I maybe burned myself out a bit ahead of the world championships, when you should be looking to be fresh as the matches are a bit longer and everyone is trying that little bit harder.

"That's taking nothing away from Joe Perry who played great snooker at Sheffield and just pipped me by a single frame.

"The fact that Fergal came through to reach the final in Belfast and Ali Carter was a world finalist shows the strength in depth in the sport now.

"There are more players coming through every year and doing well in the top tournaments.

"Nobody fears the top players any more and there are loads of good players out there so the rankings don't mean a lot.

Stephen Maguire
Stephen Maguire is a fan of Belfast's Waterfront Hall

"Ronnie is that bit ahead of everyone else and we are all playing catch-up but really anyone can beat anyone else on the day.

"When Ronnie is on his game he is sometimes unstoppable and even when his head is maybe not 100 per cent right, he can still play great snooker and beat you.

"He is definitely the world number one but you just have to concentrate and do your best if you come up against him," added the Glaswegian.

Maguire explained that he "did not pick up a cue for 12 weeks" after his interest in the World Championship ended in April and "took a total break from the game before easing back into it".

"I'm looking forward to the first tournament in Belfast but I imagine there will be a bit of rustiness among all the players, not just me hopefully.

"I think we'll all get a bit nervous as we haven't felt the pressure for a while, having been out of action for two months."

While some players struggle for motivation to practice or confine themselves to a few hours on the practice table each day, Maguire admits that if he doesn't put the work in, he doesn't play well.

"If I don't practice right, then I wouldn't even contemplate winning a tournament.

"I have to put in four and a half or five hours a day, and have been doing that for the last three weeks, so hopefully that will be enough to allow me to play well, as I did last season.

"I guess all the players like spending time with their families, rather than being down at the snooker hall, but you have to have some discipline."

Maguire describes the Waterfront Hall as "a great venue where all the boys try to put on a good show".

"The fans all love their snooker in Northern Ireland and it is good to play in an arena with a good atmosphere, especially when some of the Irish lads are playing, as the crowd really gets behind them.

"I've played Ronnie at Wembley and enjoyed that, so if I come up against some of the Northern Ireland lads, I will just look forward to it."

Maguire confesses that he does not enjoy playing against the very slow players but says there are "only a handful of players that really tie the game up and try to put other players off".

"Those players know who they are and nobody enjoys playing against them, but 95 per cent of the players just go out and play their own game."

The Scot is also well-known for wearing an open-neck shirt, rather than a bow-tie, during his matches and he explains that this is for medical reasons.

"I played with a bow-tie for my first few years as a professional but developed a neck condition and that really put me off.

"I went to the doctor and he managed to get a letter to allow me to play without it.

"I have really climbed the rankings since then, so I think that was a significant factor," he concluded.

see also
Allen seeks Belfast breakthrough
20 Aug 08 |  Snooker
Huge financial blow hits snooker
06 Aug 08 |  Snooker
Swail eager to return to action
23 Jun 08 |  Snooker
NI Trophy set for Belfast return
21 May 08 |  Snooker

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