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Irish Masters
World Ranking Event since 1984

Brief History of the Irish Masters
 
The Irish Masters traces its origins to a snooker challenge match, promoted by Benson & Hedges in 1975 at the National Boxing Arena in Dublin between John Spencer and Alex Higgins. The following year they repeated the event this time with four players in a straight knockout and in 1977, at Leopardstown Racecourse, it was staged again with four players in a round robin with the top two contesting the final. This event was variously known as the Benson & Hedges Ireland Tournament or sometimes as the Benson & Hedges Irish Championship.
 
Following on from this event and their success with the Masters in London, Benson & Hedges introduced the Irish Masters in 1978 and it remains the only major event to be held successfully in the Republic. For the venue the sponsors chose the 144-seater Goff’s bloodstock sale ring at Kill in County Kildare near Dublin.
 
Like its English counterpart it was an invitation only event and for the first few years was held on a round-robin basis with, for the first year, six players being divided into two groups with the top two in each playing semi finals. John Spencer, as with the London event, was the first winner, collecting a cheque for just  £1000 for his victory over Doug Mountjoy. Mountjoy went one better in 1979 beating Ray Reardon in the final with the prize money doubled. In his third final in a row, Doug lost to Terry Griffiths in 1980.
 
In 1981 the format was changed to a 12-man knock out with the top four seeds entering at the second round (quarter-final) stage and that remained the format for more than 20 years. Terry Griffiths defended his title that year and went on complete a hat trick of wins in 1982. By 1982 the top prize was up to £6,400 and the next year it went to five figures when Steve Davis won the first of, what was to be, eight wins in the event. He won again in 1984.
 
Alex Higgins became the first Irish finalist in 1985 but it was Jimmy White who emerged the winner and he repeated his success in 1986. Davis had back-to-back wins in 1987 and 1988. It was in 1989 however, that Irish eyes were really smiling. Their favourite, Alex Higgins, was, by then, well past his best and was now ranked down at 17. To everyone’s delight he went all the way to the final where Stephen Hendry was waiting for him. When Alex lost the first four frames, things looked bleak and even worse when the Scot was two up with three to play. Alex won those last three frames comfortably to become the first Irish winner.
 
Steve Davis won four of the next five events but it was however a quarter-final in 1990 which made all the headlines. The match featured Dennis Taylor and Alex Higgins.  Just a few days previously, at the World Cup, Alex had threatened to have Taylor ‘shot’. The stage was set for what Steve Davis described as “the grudge match of all time”. Taylor’s family and friends had flown in from all parts and he said he had never experienced an atmosphere like it. Taylor was determined to win and he did. Higgins later apologised.
 
Welshman, Darren Morgan, achieved the only major victory of his career when he beat Steve Davis in the 1996 final and he almost did it again the next year but Hendry beat him in the final frame. This was the fourth successive year that the final had gone to a decider.
 
Dublin’s own Ken Doherty reached the final in 1998 and although it was Ronnie O’Sullivan who won the match, his failing of a subsequent drug test meant that he forfeited the title and so Ken became the Republic’s first champion. Stephen Lee looked set for the title in 1999 when he was 8-4 up against Hendry but the Scot won five in a row to win for a third time. Due to a ban on tobacco sponsorship in Ireland, the 2000 event would be the last to carry the Benson & Hedges name. It proved to be memorable as it provided the event with its first maximum break. John Higgins, who had made his first 147 a few weeks earlier in the Nations Cup, achieved the feat in his quarter final against Jimmy White and he went on to win the title with a victory over Stephen Hendry.
 
Hotel group, Citywest, stepped in to promote the event in 2001 at their hotel at Saggart, just outside Dublin. After yet another final frame decider, the eighth in the history of the event, Ronnie O’Sullivan at last took the title for real with Hendry the runner up for a fourth time. The tournament became a full ranking event in 2003 with the same sponsors. It was dropped from the calendar in 2005/6

Roll Of Honour             

Year Venue Sponsor Winner
Runner Up Score 1st Prize
1978 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges John Spencer Doug Mountjoy 5-3 £1,000
1979 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Doug Mountjoy Ray Reardon 6-5 £2,000
1980 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Terry Griffiths Doug Mountjoy 9-8 £2,500
1981 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Terry Griffiths Ray Reardon 9-7 £5,000
1982 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Terry Griffiths Steve Davis 9-5 £6,400
1983 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Steve Davis Ray Reardon 9-2 £10,680
1984 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Steve Davis Terry Griffiths 9-1 £12,295
1985 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Jimmy White Alex Higgins 9-5 £18,000
1986 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Jimmy White Willie Thorne 9-5 £20,869
1987 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Steve Davis Willie Thorne 9-1 £22,500
1988 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Steve Davis Neal Foulds 9-4 £26.080
1989 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Alex Higgins Stephen Hendry 9-8 £27,242
1990 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Steve Davis Dennis Taylor 9-4 £37,000
1991 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Steve Davis John Parrott 9-5 £36,000
1992 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Stephen Hendry Ken Doherty 9-6 £40,375
1993 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Steve Davis Alan McManus 9-4 £45,000
1994 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Steve Davis Alan McManus 9-8 £48,000
1995 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Peter Ebdon Stephen Hendry 9-8 £70,000
1996 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Darren Morgan Steve Davis 9-8 £70,000
1997 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Stephen Hendry Darren Morgan 9-8 £72,000
1998 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Ken Doherty Ronnie O'Sullivan # 3-9 £61,130
1999 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges Stephen Hendry Stephen Lee 9-8 £63,226
2000 Goff's, Kill, Co.Kildare Benson & Hedges John Higgins Stephen Hendry 9-4 £54,949
2001 Citywest Hotel, Saggart, Dublin Citywest Hotel Ronnie O'Sullivan Stephen Hendry 9-8 £61,500
2002 Citywest Hotel, Saggart, Dublin Citywest Hotel John Higgins Peter Ebdon 10-3 £65,000
2003 Citywest Hotel, Saggart, Dublin Citywest Hotel Ronnie O'Sullivan John Higgins 10-9 £48,000
2004 Citywest Hotel, Saggart, Dublin Citywest Hotel Peter Ebdon Mark King 10-7 £48,000
2005 Citywest Hotel, Saggart, Dublin Fáilte Ireland Ronnie O'Sullivan Matthew Stevens 10-8 £50,000
#Ronnie O'Sullivan originally won this final but was later disqualified after a drug test and the title awarded to Ken Doherty

Maximum Breaks
Final Stage
John Higgins 2000 Quarter final v. Jimmy White

Benson & Hedges Ireland Tournament
(also known as the Benson & Hedges Irish Championship)
Year Venue Sponsor Winner
Runner Up Score 1st Prize
1975 National Boxing Stadium, Dublin Benson & Hedges John Spencer Alex Higgins 9-7 n/a
1976 National Boxing Stadium, Dublin Benson & Hedges John Spencer Alex Higgins 5-0 £1,300
1977 Leopardstown Racecourse Benson & Hedges Alex Higgins Ray Reardon 5-3 £750

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© Chris Turner 2008