Local hero Ken Doherty takes centre stage in Dublin tonight hoping to shake himself out of the worst slump of his professional career.
Doherty began the season in fine form, winning an invitation title in Bangkok and reaching the semi-finals of the LG Cup.
But since then he has won only one match from the following four world ranking tournaments and heads into his home event low on confidence.
Doherty, the 1997 world champion, faces dangerous Essex professional Stuart Bingham in the first round of the Citywest Irish Masters.
The Irish event has not been a happy hunting ground for the Dubliner since he reached the 1998 final, where Ronnie O’Sullivan beat him 9-3 before being stripped of the title after failing a drugs test.
In fact, Doherty has won just one match in the last five stagings of the Irish Masters, but he insists his practice form is strong ahead of this year’s tournament.
“I’m playing pretty well and I’m just as good as anyone on my day,” said Doherty, the sixth seed.
“I’ve prepared well for the tournament. I’ve been practising with Stephen Hendry in Scotland for a few days and that’s helped.
“There’s a level of expectation that weighs slightly on my shoulders, but at the same time I wouldn’t change it for the world.
“You wouldn’t think it on my past performances but I love playing in front of my home crowd.
“If I could do it, there would be nothing better. After winning the world championship, winning the Irish Masters would definitely rank as my greatest achievement.”
Former champions John Higgins and Peter Ebdon moved through to the last 16 in impressive fashion yesterday.
Higgins, the winner in 2000 and 2002, needed only 53 minutes to dispose of Maltese No 1 Tony Drago, firing in breaks of 80, 95, 78, 58 and 73 en route to a 5-1 victory.
Ebdon, the 1995 champion, highlighted his 5-2 defeat of Preston’s Ian McCulloch with breaks of 136 and 125.
But another former winner, eight-times Irish Masters champion Steve Davis, was beaten 5-4 by Brian Morgan despite recovering from 4-1 down to force a decider.
Meanwhile, the ever enigmatic Ronnie O’Sullivan revealed he had not wanted to make the trip across the Irish Sea after beating Michael Holt 5-2.
O’Sullivan finished off with a break of 106 but admitted he was feeling “fed up” with snooker.
“I enjoy life so much when I’m at home that when I come away I wonder if this is really what I want to do,” he said.
“To be honest, I don’t really want to be here. The last thing I feel I want to be doing is playing snooker.”
In Sunday’s one second round match, Wembley Masters champion Paul Hunter was beaten 5-2 by Scottish world No 13 Graeme Dott.