The History of the Northern Ireland Open: The Alex Higgins Trophy

The BetVictor Northern Ireland Open is more than just another snooker event; it’s an annual gathering of cue-sport enthusiasts and history-makers. With each passing year, this tournament has etched its name in snooker history. Let’s take a look at the thrilling finals of the past five years, all played for the prestigious Alex Higgins Trophy.

2016 – Mark King vs. Barry Hawkins

The inaugural Northern Ireland Open introduced the world to this thrilling event. Mark King, the seasoned cueman from Essex, was on a mission. After 25 years as a professional, he aimed to secure his first-ever ranking crown. Standing in his way was the former Crucible finalist, Barry Hawkins, who had already claimed three ranking titles.Mark King- NORTHERN IRELAND OPEN winner 2016

The final was a rollercoaster ride. At 8-7, King found himself just a frame away from victory but needed a seven-point snooker to force a re-spot in the 16th frame. It seemed almost impossible, with only the pink and black balls left on the table. However, King executed a near-miraculous shot by placing the pink ball atop the black. Hawkins fouled but won the re-spot, taking the match to a thrilling decider.

Ultimately, it was Mark King who kept his composure and secured an emotional victory, clinching the coveted Alex Higgins Trophy.

2017 – Mark Williams vs. Yan Bingtao

The 2017 Northern Ireland Open marked the beginning of a golden season for Mark Williams. This triumph paved the way for a stellar year that saw him claim his first world title since 2003 at the World Championship2017 – Mark Williams northern ireland open winner

Yan Bingtao, a mere 17 years old at the time, was close to making history as the youngest winner of a ranking event. Though he narrowly missed this milestone, Yan’s talent eventually bore fruit with a maiden ranking title at the 2019 Riga Masters. He later achieved Triple Crown glory by winning the Masters.

The final was an exhibition of high-quality snooker. Yan led 6-3 and 8-7, seemingly on the cusp of history. However, the experienced Mark Williams demonstrated his class, turning the match around and capturing the Alex Higgins Trophy.

Before the final, Williams faced doubts about whether he would even compete. His wife Jo had fallen ill with Meningitis, necessitating hospital treatment. Williams made the decision to play on the morning of the final, relieved that she had since made a full recovery. This emotional backdrop added extra weight to his victory.

2018 – Judd Trump vs. Ronnie O’Sullivan

The 2018 Northern Ireland Open final featured the clash of snooker titans, Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan. This encounter marked the beginning of a series of high-profile meetings between these two legends, culminating in three consecutive finals.

Judd Trump, already boasting nine ranking titles, added another feather to his cap with the Northern Ireland Open victory. In the following seasons, his remarkable performances would see him more than double his tally to reach 22 titles.

Ronnie O’Sullivan, fresh from winning the Champion of Champions just a week earlier, aimed for back-to-back titles. The final was a tight affair, with both players level at 4-4 during the afternoon session.Judd Trump (2018) northern ireland winner

O’Sullivan surged ahead in the evening session, leading 7-6 after a break of 134. This turned Trump’s competitive spirit into overdrive, propelling him to victory with consecutive frames and a break of 79 in the final frame. Judd Trump prevailed 9-7, clinching the Alex Higgins Trophy.

“It was tough all day,” Trump admitted. “I was prepared for facing Ronnie. Against anyone else I would probably have been 6-2 up after the first session. Nobody else clears up after you miss like he does.”

2019 – Judd Trump vs. Ronnie O’Sullivan

Snooker’s 350th ranking final saw two of the sport’s heavyweights, Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan, face off at the Waterfront Hall. It was a historic clash, as the same final was repeated in back-to-back years, reminiscent of Paul Hunter and Ken Doherty’s encounter in the Welsh Open in 2001 and 2002.

The initial session saw Judd Trump take a 5-3 lead. However, O’Sullivan responded with a break of 134 to lead 7-6. Trump showed his resilience by securing the next three frames, including a spectacular 147 attempt that concluded with a break of 113, putting him 7-4 ahead.2019: Judd Trump -Northern Ireland

Though O’Sullivan made valiant efforts to catch up with breaks of 72 and 76, Trump maintained his lead and closed the final at 9-7.

This victory marked Trump’s third ranking title of the season, and he would go on to break records, securing six ranking victories in a single season.

“It was an amazing atmosphere out there at the end,” Trump said. “Both times I have played him here in the final, it has been unbelievable. The arena is made for snooker.”

2020 – Judd Trump vs. Ronnie O’Sullivan

In 2020, the global pandemic forced the sporting world behind closed doors, including the Northern Ireland Open. Despite the absence of live spectators, the final between Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan retained its dramatic character, ending with the exact same scoreline as the previous two years.

Judd Trump’s victory made him the first player to win a specific ranking title three years in a row since Stephen Hendry’s feat at the 1996 UK Championship.

Leading 5-3 after the afternoon session, Trump showcased his dominance with breaks of 89 and 55 in the evening, moving him to a 7-3 lead. O’Sullivan fought back, closing the gap to 7-5 with breaks of 72 and 76. Trump, however, remained composed and secured a 9-7 victory with a break of 89.

“It was a tough game,” Trump reflected. “I felt confident at 8-5. Like I was going to get chances and that didn’t happen. I made a brilliant clearance, it was up there with one of the best clearances I’ve made.”

The Trump-O’Sullivan rivalry had fans on the edge of their seats. These two legends consistently brought out the best in each other on the snooker table.

Mark Allen: 2021 Champion

In the memorable 2021 Northern Ireland Open, Mark Allen etched his name into the annals of snooker history. Competing on his home turf in Belfast, Allen’s path to glory was nothing short of extraordinary. Along the way, he faced formidable adversaries, including the defending champion Judd Trump, whose reign was brought to an end by Allen in a dramatic quarter-final showdown. The championship’s climax was a classic encounter with the experienced John Higgins. Despite trailing 6-8 at one point, Allen’s unwavering spirit and remarkable skills allowed him to mount a spectacular comeback. In front of a roaring crowd at the Waterfront Hall, Mark Allen secured a thrilling 9–8 victory, becoming the first Northern Irish player to lift the Northern Ireland Open trophy. This triumph was not just a personal milestone but also a moment of immense pride for the passionate snooker fans in his homeland.

Mark Allen: 2022 Champion

In the following year, Mark Allen embarked on a journey to defend his title, and he did so with a flair that only a true champion possesses. Facing tough adversaries once more, Allen displayed his consistency and the ability to thrive under pressure. In a thrilling final against Zhou Yuelong, Allen faced the daunting prospect of being 1-4 down at one stage. Yet, he demonstrated his resilience, experience, and remarkable skill to orchestrate a remarkable comeback. The final score, 9–4, reflected the extraordinary nature of his victory. With this back-to-back triumph, Mark Allen cemented his status as a dominant force in the world of snooker. The fans in Belfast, who had witnessed his remarkable journey, celebrated their hometown hero’s incredible achievements. Mark Allen’s consecutive victories in 2021 and 2022 further solidified his place as a legend of the Northern Ireland Open, leaving an indelible mark on the tournament’s storied history.

Northern Ireland Open Winners

Here is a table summarizing the winners of the Northern Ireland Open from its inception to the present:

YearWinnerRunner-upFinal ScoreVenueCitySeason
2016Mark King (ENG)Barry Hawkins (ENG)9–8Titanic Exhibition CentreBelfast, Northern Ireland2016/17
2017Mark Williams (WAL)Yan Bingtao (CHN)9–8Waterfront Hall2017/18
2018Judd Trump (ENG)Ronnie O’Sullivan (ENG)9–72018/19
2019Judd Trump (ENG)Ronnie O’Sullivan (ENG)9–72019/20
2020Judd Trump (ENG)Ronnie O’Sullivan (ENG)9–7Marshall ArenaMilton Keynes, England2020/21
2021Mark Allen (NIR)John Higgins (SCO)9–8Waterfront HallBelfast, Northern Ireland2021/22
2022Mark Allen (NIR)Zhou Yuelong (CHN)9–42022/23

The Northern Ireland Open has a rich history, with champions like Mark King, Mark Williams, Judd Trump, and Mark Allen etching their names in snooker lore. Who will claim the title in 2023? Stay tuned to find out!