Mark Beattie insists it was a tough job winning the European Masters last season, but it will be even more difficult retaining the title in Belgium over the weekend!
The big Foyle man has great memories of this tournament, having defeated his follow country man Joe Beattie - no relation - in last season’s final which earned him his third Short Mat Players’ Tour title.
Beattie, a member of the Foyle team that grabbed an impressive victory over South Tyrone in the first round of last week’s IIBA Inter-zone Championship, will now put his trophy on the line at the Sporthal Vossenberg.
He has been pitched in against England duo, Dennis Hinks and Rebecca Smith, along with Lars Hilton from Sweden; Italy’s Antonio Rinaldi and German ace Andreas Hahn.
“It will be another test of physical and mental strength,” said Mark Beattie.
“It’s a matter of concentrating on the group stages first. That’s the priority. And, if I can make it through to the knockout phase, it’s simply one game at a time. My initial aim is to finish in the top two in my group.
“The quality of opposition is getting stronger, there is no question about that.
“To be honest, I’ll be going into the unknown in many ways because I don’t know an awful lot about the people in my group. I’m the title holder, so I’m the one everyone will want to beat. It’s something I must come to terms with.”
Beattie has an impressive CV on the SMPT circuit, having won the World Masters title in 2015 and the 2014 European Masters.
He also finished runner up in last year’s UK Open and Swedish Masters.
His SMPT breakthrough win was back in 2012 when he lifted the UK Open crown.
“I’ve done quite well over the past two or three years,” he said modestly.
“But you can take nothing for granted in this game. As I’ve said, the quality of opposition is improving on a yearly basis, so it’s going to be another massive test, not only for me, but for the rest of my Northern Ireland colleagues.”
There will be 72 players on the starting grid, forming 12 group of six players.
“It will be another battle,” added Mark.
“But we have a great record in SMPT events. Unfortunately, I think there are only around 11 players making the trip to Belgium.
“I managed to defeat Joe Beattie in the final last season, but he’s not travelling on this occasion. Jal Richardson also misses out. But those of us who are going will be giving it out best shot.”
Short Mat Players’ Tour Director Phil Mills again will have the ‘house full’ signs up for the competition.
He said: “Northern Ireland players have certainly raised the bar in these competitions. They are rarely out of the top three any any tournament.
“But other countries are certainly starting to up the ante. Belgium’s Dimitri Payne lifted the Irish Open title in Belfast last month, which was a big breakthrough.
“He ironically narrowly defeated Northern Ireland’s Andy Morrison in the final
“And, Sweden’s victory in the World Cup at Bromsgrove back in August, which is a team event, also set down a marker.
“It sets up an intriguing situation for the European Masters in Belgium.”
How they line out . . .
European Masters Group One: Sibe Laurey, Jelle Helsen, Erwin Vanlangenakker, Louis Helsen, Ken Sleat, Susanne Steele.
Group Two: Diane Bell, Uel Finlay, Ingvar Nelson, Michael Derwael, Sam Moore, Bronagh Toleman.
Group Three: Suzanne Finaly, Alun Thompas, Esther De Groot, Jonathan Payne, Raymonda Van Roy, Eddy Baetens.
Group Four: Jorgen Karlsson, Adrienne Soudan, Bent Nielsen, Christer Almen, James Trott, Paula Greens.
Group Five: Reggie Colleen, Willy Leysen, Roger Willie, Gary Moore, Paul Pomeroy, Lars Hansen.
Group Six: Andrew Cockcroft, Dom Reed, Marcus Alment, PJ Gallagher, John Lax, Tony Bell.
Group Seven: Daniel Neyt, Joel Hager, Robert Martin, Ross Mackin, Ulf Hallstrand, Frans Roberts.
Group Eight: Paul Mertens, Saskia Schafft, Willy Van Lantschoot, David Lee, Erika Wachholz, Roby Vannoppen.
Group Nine: Robert De Rijcke, Frank Vermoesen, Nigel Reed, Dimitri Payne, Alex Kley, Steve Puttock.
Group 10: Mitchell Young, Kaatje Vangeneugden, Mark McHugh, Sam Harvey, Liam Smith, Jonas Hager.
Group 11: Mark Beattie, Dennis Hinks, Lars Hilton, Andreas Hahn, Rebecca Smith, Antonia Rinaldi.
Group 12: Bengt Johansson, Dick Almen, Jack Pye, Robin Armstrong, Jan Reinders, Lee Toleman.