Hunter, Doherty through

Paul Hunter played through the pain barrier to finally record his first victory of 2005 at the Fáilte Ireland Irish Masters today.

Paul Hunter played through the pain barrier to finally record his first victory of 2005 at the Fáilte Ireland Irish Masters today.

The world number four defeated Malta’s Tony Drago 5-3 at Dublin’s Citywest Hotel to end a seven-match losing run which began last November.

But the three-time Wembley Masters champion was almost forced to pull out of the event, having developed mystery stomach pains a fortnight ago.

“I’m in constant pain down my right-hand side, and it makes it hard to bend over and play,” said Hunter, whose preparation for the 2002 Embassy World Championship was hampered by an operation to remove cysts from his scrotum.

“I thought I might have appendicitis and went to the doctors, but they don’t know what’s wrong with me.

“They asked if I’ve ever had an operation on my kidneys, because they couldn’t find one of them.

“The doctor told me to come and play, and if the pain was still there to go back and they would perform keyhole surgery.”

The pain did not have an adverse effect on his form at the table today, though.

“It’s amazing – because it’s the worst I’ve felt all season but I’ve still won,” said the Yorkshireman.

“The way it’s been going I didn’t want to pull out. I’d have been here if I was on my deathbed.”

Hunter, 26, lost in the last 16 of November’s UK Championship, in the opening round of the Welsh Open, Malta Cup and the Masters – and all three of his contests in the Premier League.

He trailed Drago 3-2 but weighed in with a break of 132 to win the sixth frame, made it 4-3 with an effort of 72 and easily clinched the eighth to reach the last 16.

“I haven’t won a match since November, so it’s a really nice feeling,” added Hunter.

“I’ve struggled all season – but I found an extra gear.”

Home favourite Ken Doherty also warmed up for this tournament with a visit to hospital – but he too reached the second round with a 5-3 defeat of Norwich professional Barry Pinches.

An infection picked up at the Masters last month led to Doherty suffering from a burst eardrum, but the Dubliner showed no ill-effects as he produced a battling performance in front of his home fans.

“I feel better, and it’s nice to win here because this tournament is second only to the world championship for me,” said Doherty, who compiled breaks of 50, 63, 56, 67 and 56.

Seventh seed Matthew Stevens fashioned runs of 81, 91 and 61 as he defeated Nottingham’s Anthony Hamilton 5-3.

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