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Higgins: Ireland return is special

SNOOKER: World champion John Higgins can't wait to return to Ireland this weekend and he will be joined by some of the game's greats, such as Ronnie O'Sullivan, Jimmy White and Stephen Hendry.

The Killarney Convention Centre plays host to the eighth round of the Players Tour Championship (PTC), with the preliminary rounds set to begin today in the Kingdom and the tournament concluding on Sunday.

The PTC is a series of 12 short events, with the top 24 on the final order of merit going through to the grand final in March -- providing they have played in at least three domestic events and three overseas.

Current world champion, Scotsman John Higgins is counting down the minutes until his return to competitive action here.

"It's always a great time when I come to Ireland. The snooker fans are first class and welcome all the players. I can't wait," he said.

"Just last week I played one of your Irish players, David Morris, who maybe in previous seasons would not have got the chance to play the top players.

"That's what Barry Hearne has done. He's made the game more accessible to more players."

The scrapping of the Irish Masters left a huge vacuum in snooker action and Higgins has fond memories at his time at the table in Goffs.

"It's always great to come over. One of the best tournaments I ever played in was the Irish Masters in Goffs in Kildare. That generated probably one of the best atmospheres I've ever played in," he added.

"Down in Killarney the fans will come out and I'm sure they will create a fantastic atmosphere for snooker."

The four-time world champ feels this weekend's competition may inspire a youngster to become the next big thing in Irish snooker.



Inspiration

"We're finding it very difficult in Scotland because we don't have any big professional events," he adds.

"I can always remember all the top players coming over to Glasgow when I was about nine or 10 and going with my brother to watch Alex Higgins and Jimmy White play and that was the main inspiration that got me playing snooker. So who knows, there could be many young kids coming out in Killarney watching the likes of Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty and that might inspire them to play snooker for a living.

"Hopefully young kids will come out and support the event as well as their mums and dads."

Last year, Higgins (36) was cleared of match-fixing.

The Scot had been targeted in a newspaper 'sting' when he appeared to agree to accept cash for deliberately losing frames for a Russian gambling syndicate.

The current world champ was later cleared by an independent tribunal on match fixing after claiming he had been intimidated into making the offer by the 'gangsters'.

But Higgins was fined £75,000 and handed a six-month suspension for breaking rules over discussing betting and for failing to report an approach from a would-be corruptor.

He bounced back in May to win the world title in a titanic 18-15 battle with Judd Trump.

"Just to win it once, which I had only done up to 2007, was a great achievement for myself," said Higgins.

"In the last five or six years to win it another three times is probably beyond my wildest dreams.

"It's just fantastic to be world champion again and I thank my lucky stars that I managed to do it again.

"I look forward to every event I play in and coming back to Ireland will be extra special."