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Is Mark Selby back and can he sweep the Home Nations?

Is Mark Selby back and can he sweep the Home Nations?

11/11/2019 at 08:16Updated 11/11/2019 at 09:16

When the 2019/2020 season began, three-time world champion Mark Selby was 11 months without a ranking title with just one semi-final appearance to his name in the same stretch - but at the Northern Ireland Open he can go half way to winning snooker's wealthiest prize.

By many measures, last season was Selby's most forgettable in almost a decade, and naturally questions have been raised over whether one of snooker's most resilient players was on the decline.

And yet in this season's infancy, Selby looks every bit the player that can grind through opponents with an unnerving lack of errors and unfaltering patience. Two semi-finals and an English Open title to his name already, Selby is now the only man with a chance of claiming all four Home Nations titles and a £1 million bonus - described by Ronnie O'Sullivan as 'impossible'.

But if it is a winnable prize then an on-song Selby is the most credible contender - a player whose unwavering mettle looks made for a challenge so unsuited to more gifted but restless opponents.

The Northern Ireland Open is next up, and begins on Monday, 11 November, in Belfast. Selby, however, is just one part of an all-star line-up and a second Home Nations title of the season will be no easy feat.

Defending champion Judd Trump, fresh from winning the World Open and International Championship this season, begins his Northern Ireland Open defence against James Cahill. Last year's runner-up Ronnie O'Sullivan is the favourite for the tournament and goes up against Oliver Lines in first round. These two are obvious contenders, while the likes of Neil Robertson and John Higgins are also massive competitors and few would be surprised should they claim the Alex Higgins Trophy. Not to mention home favourite Mark Allen.

David Gilbert is enjoying his finest run of form as a professional

David Gilbert is enjoying his finest run of form as a professionalGetty Images

But 20/1 outsider David Gilbert looks a strong shout to reach the latter stages and perhaps even push for a first ranking title. The Englishman is enjoying his best run of form as a professional, reaching two quarter-finals and a final - at the Northern Ireland open - in his last three outings at ranking tournaments. One of the form players of the season so far, Gilbert is going from strength to strength and shows few signs of slowing. He kicks things off against Anthony Hamilton.

Video - 'You haven't won a title in about 15 years!' - Goldstein trolls Selby

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As for Selby, his route to the final starts with a match against Xu Si. He, along with everyone else, will be hoping to take home a top prize of £70,000, but for Selby, a win would represent a massive step towards achieving the 'impossible', while reminding us all why he's still one of the game's shining stars even after a year outside the spotlight.

NORTHERN IRELAND FIRST ROUND DRAW

Monday November 11

Not before 11:00

  • Zhang Anda v Simon Lichtenberg
  • Hossein Vafaei v Si Jiahui
  • Allister Carter v Robert Milkins
  • Li Hang v Elliot Slessor
  • Yan Bingtao v Andy Hicks
  • Marco Fu v Gerard Greene
  • Lü Haotian v Tian Pengfei
  • Matthew Stevens v Chris Wakelin
  • Ashley Carty v Rod Lawler
  • Thor Chuan Leong v Jak Jones
  • Ken Doherty v Michael Georgiou

Not before 14:00

  • Tom Ford v Andrew Higginson
  • Mark Selby v Xu Si
  • Peter Lines v Mei Xiwen
  • Ryan Day v Harvey Chandler
  • Stephen Maguire v Declan Lavery (a)
  • Thepchaiya Un-Nooh v Mark King
  • Mitchell Mann v Liam Highfield
  • Mike Dunn v Mark Davis
  • Chen Feilong v Kishan Hirani
  • Ding Junhui v David Lilley
  • David B Gilbert v Anthony Hamilton
  • Jordan Brown v James Wattana

Not before 20:00

  • Patrick Wallace v Robbie McGuigan (a)
  • John Higgins v Chang Bingyu
  • Jackson Page v Barry Pinches
  • Anthony McGill v Robbie Williams
  • Hammad Miah v Martin Gould
  • Xiao Guodong v Alexander Ursenbacher
  • Ian Burns v Andy Lee
  • Barry Hawkins v Eden Sharav
  • Adam Stefanow v Luca Brecel
  • Shaun Murphy v Fraser Patrick

Tuesday 12

Not before 11:00

  • Liang Wenbo v Kurt Maflin
  • Noppon Saengkham v Billy Joe Castle
  • Ross Bulman v Zhang Jiankang
  • Graeme Dott v Duane Jones
  • Bai Langning v Craig Steadman
  • Jamie O'Neill v Akani Songsermsawad
  • Jimmy Robertson v Igor Figueiredo
  • Louis Heathcote v Lei Peifan
  • Lee Walker v Martin O'Donnell
  • Scott Donaldson v Alfie Burden
  • Sam Baird v Nigel Bond

Not before 14:00

  • Judd Trump v James Cahill
  • Chen Zifan v Wallace / McGuigan
  • Riley Parsons v Kacper Filipiak
  • Stuart Bingham v Lu Ning
  • Dominic Dale v Luo Honghao
  • Peter Ebdon v Jimmy White
  • Matthew Selt v Daniel Wells
  • Neil Robertson v Mark Joyce
  • Mark Allen v Sam Craigie
  • Jamie Clarke v Ben Woollaston
  • Jack Lisowski v Sohail Vahedi
  • Gary Wilson v Yuan Sijun

Tue 12 Nov 8pm

  • Ricky Walden v Alex Borg
  • Michael Holt v Michael White
  • Fan Zhengyi v Fergal O'Brien
  • Brandon Sargeant v Joe O'Connor
  • John Astley v Stuart Carrington
  • Zhou Yuelong v David Grace
  • Ronnie O'Sullivan v Oliver Lines
  • Kyren Wilson v Alan McManus
  • Joe Perry v Zhao Xintong
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