By Hector Nunns
Joe O’Connor faces a Duelbits Players Championship baptism of fire against player of the season Mark Allen on Monday night.
The 27-year-old from Leicester has made the short trip to the West Midlands and the Aldersley Leisure Village Arena for the first-round best-of-11 frame clash.
At number 37 in the world, O’Connor is the lowest-ranked player in the field of the 16 best-performing players in ranking tournaments for the current season.
Having edged out three-time world champion Mark Williams and in a line-up missing world No1 Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson and John Higgins, O’Connor is relishing the stage.
O’Connor said: “I haven’t played at the Crucible yet, or got to the Masters for the top 16, or played in the Players Championship or the Tour Championships for the top 16 and top eight of the season.
“I hadn’t even played in the World Grand Prix for the top 32 of the season until this current campaign.
“So I am really pleased to have made it to the line-up – I think I just edged out Mark Williams for the final place. So it is a very good season for me already.
“It is a big moment in my career. Only the best 16 players of the season so far can go to this tournament, and I am one of them – just creeping in to the 16th place.
“There are a good few of the actual top 16 in the overall rankings not there including Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson and John Higgins.
“So it shows how tough it is to get in to these events, so I am really chuffed and see this as a lot of hard work paying off.
“I knew going in to last week’s Welsh Open that I needed to win a few matches to be in contention, but the win in the last-16 win did it.
“Then there was just a bit of sweating because Tian Pengfei or Pang Junxu could have knocked me out if they the title in Wales, but they both lost in the semi-finals.
“Mark Allen will obviously be a huge test. I have played him a couple of times including this season at the Grand Prix when I lost 4-3.
“So I will be looking to get some revenge for that. Leicester has a lot of good players, obviously Mark Selby is the best known for his great achievements.
“But there is Tom Ford, Ben Woollaston, Louis Heathcote and myself too – so many good players from such a small area, and helpful for practice between tournaments.
“I think Mark has probably been a bigger help to me than he realises, not just through practice. You watch his success and how hard he works – it inspires and motivates me.”