The Northern Ireland Open and extra special winners

The winner of the Northern Ireland Open will have the privilege of seeing their name stand completely alone on the new tournament’s Alex Higgins Trophy.

To be the inaugural winner of a ranking event is to enjoy membership of a rather illustrious band of players.

Of this season’s 18 ranking events, the ‘first-ever’ champions include Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, Mark Selby and snooker’s current man of the moment, John Higgins.

If Higgins wins on Saturday, not only will it be his third tournament victory on the trot, it will be the third time he has been the winner of a new (and still-in-existence) ranking event.

However, it has been nearly two decades since his second such victory.

His previous entries onto the list of inaugural winners came through triumphs at The German Masters (then the German Open) in 1995 and the China Open (then the China International) in 1999.

One man who will be unable to prevent a Higgins hat-trick is Mark Selby, who is not playing in Belfast this week.

Selby fans will be particularly disappointed about this, because their man would have been on for his own quick-fire double of inaugural ranking event victories. In August, Selby triumphed in the Paul Hunter Classic, which, prior to the Northern Ireland Open, was the latest addition to snooker’s calendar of ranking events.