Antrim snooker star Robbie McGuigan aims for the top after turning professional

Robbie McGuigan is a name you'll be hearing a lot more of.

The 19-year-old from Antrim is the latest snooker player from Northern Ireland to turn professional.

McGuigan earned a two year card to compete on the World Snooker Tour by winning the European Amatuer Championship in Sarajevo.

"It's just amazing, I have dreamt of turning professional since I was a young boy," McGuigan told me.

As he sat in Antrim Sports Club talking me through his emotions on the night he couldn't help but smile.

"The scream I made at the end of the match was so loud I think everyone could see how much it meant to me.

"The other amateurs from Northern Ireland who had been knocked out stayed on to support me, which no other country does once they are out they normally just go home, but we have always supported our own on the amatuer tour.

"They were there cheering me on and I don't think I'd have gotten over the line if it wasn't for them."

The manner in which McGuigan claimed the title was most impressive, winning the deciding frame in five consecutive matches before being crowned champion.

It is that mental resilience that has prompted his club mate and close friend Mark Allen to tip him for big things.

"I believe he can go all the way to the top of the sport," Allen told me.

"Words can't express how proud I am of him, I am always on the phone to him telling him how proud I am of him and not just in the wins but because he works so hard.

"He is always practising and trying things to improve his game. We used to have to peel him off the table to make him go home to bed so he could get up for school!"

McGuigan's journey in the sport started because of Allen, his former step dad.

"Mark bought me a snooker table for Christmas was I was seven or eight," he recalled. "I wasn't very good at the start but I kept practising and now I'm loving snooker more than I ever have.

"It's not easy and I know there are many downs but I look at Mark and see how much he has improved over the last couple of years and so I know I have many years ahead to improve and I love practising to try and get better."

Allen remembers the time he knew McGuigan had something special.

"He was beating men in tournaments when he was nine but when he was 13 he made his first 147. I was on my way back from China and someone called to tell me, I thought they were winding me up! But I saw the footage back and couldn't believe it."

McGuigan wants to finish his amatuer career in style by winning his fourth Northern Ireland Open in a row this summer before his first professional WST tournament, which will be in August or September.

"It will be tough but I think the mental strength Robbie has shown to get his game back on track this year and get on the tour will go a long way. Not many people get on the tour for two years and stay there," Allen added.

"But as long as Robbie enjoys earns from it that's the main thing."

So what's been the best part of turning professional for McGuigan?

"I used to have to clean the snooker tables here at the club to play for free, now I don't have to do that!" he smiled. "And changing my Twitter profile handle to 'Professional snooker player' too, that was really nice."

Allen and McGuigan could end up playing each other on the tour, and although Allen says he hopes he's retired by then because he wouldn't want to face someone so close to him, McGuigan would relish it.

"I think it would be great for me to settle me in," he added.

McGuigan has always looked up to Allen and supported his career but he's keen to write his own success story.

"I might go on to achieve more than Mark or achieve less but it won't bother me as long as I fulfill my own potential and I won't stop working towards that," he told me.

So it's not the next Mark Allen you've to look out for, it's Robbie McGuigan.

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