Andrew Leckey has a big reputation to live up to in the Short Mat Players’ Tour that swings into action at the Watson Stadium on over the weekend.
The Armagh man enjoyed his finest hour in this tournament 12 months ago, defeating Oriel’s Kevin Conroy 11-10 in a gripping final to hoist the Irish Open Championship and his first SMPT title.
It was one of a number of Irish successes on the Tour as no less than six trophies from the seven tournaments staged in 2013 ended up on these shores.
Even though local boy Morten-Andre Coll triumphed in the Swedish Masters in January, Ireland’s best dominated the remainder of the campaign.
Leckey’s Armagh team mate Joe Beattie clocked up a double dose of glory, winning the English Masters in February and the UK Open in August.
Sandwiched in between, Mid Ulster’s Alan Paul hoisted the World Masters trophy.
Leckey then took centre stage at the Watson Stadium with that epic win against Conroy.
William Morrison and Jal Richardson ended the year on a high by lifting the World Pairs in November.
Then earlier this year, Beattie was back on the winners’ rostrum, this time taking the Swedish crown away from Coll.
It just kept getting better for Ireland as Cecil Dillon triumphed in the English Open at Bromsgrove Bowls Club. Due to the fact that the West Down man finished in a high position in a number of other tournaments, that victory earned Dillon the SMPT Order of Merit Trophy, along with a £250 top prize.
Oriel’s Gerry McCabe maintained the fantastic run of results by topping the World Masters table back in April, edging past the challenge of Lisburn’s Paul Reid and Kevin Conroy, who finished second and third respectively.
However, England’s Robert Mann poked a spanner in the Irish run of successes by winning last month’s UK Masters, beating Richardson 11-6 at the semi final stage before edging past North West’s Martin Beattie (11-8) in the decider.
Now the spotlight returns to Leckey, who puts his Irish Open title on the line in what is sure to be another titanic struggle at Shaws Bridge.
“It’s tough enough winning at SMPT title, but even more difficult retaining it,” said Leckey.
“I had a great run in the tournament last year, beating Raymond Stubbs in the semis before just getting the better of Kevin (Conroy). It really could have gone either way. I was three up going into the last end and lost a two, so it was a nervy finish.
“It’s another massive challenge. I’m the title holder so that brings it’s own bit of pressure. The reality is there are 15 or 20 boys in the line-up who could rightly walk away with the title and top prize and it wouldn’t be a surprise.”
Leckey goes into action on Saturday morning having to contend with Glenn Harvey, Fra Dillon, Thomas Martin and Robert Kidd in his section.
Meanwhile, Cecil Dillon, the most consistent performer last season, goes in with Robbie Foster, Marty McNicholl, Seamus Boyle, Jordan Ranking and Christopher Hiller.
Joe Beattie, will be looking to add to his three previous championships and will be favourite to see off the challenge of James Trott, Mark Petticrew, Alan Lyttle, Jonathan Payne, and Sean McLean.
And, McCabe, the current World Masters title holder, will lock horns with Johnny Dixon, Michael Fitzimons, Jonathan Barnes, Adam Ranking and Sean Trainor.