Joe O’Connor is looking to continue climbing the rankings and hopes he can jump into the top 32 by the end of this season.
The 25-year-old from Leicester has impressed since earning his first professional tour card three years ago. His run to the 2019 Welsh Open semi-finals, where he knocked out Kyren Wilson, Ding Junhui and John Higgins, remains his best to date.
O’Connor was named Rookie of the Year after his debut season in 2018/19
Last month he enjoyed a fine run to the last 16 of the matchroom.live British Open in his home city – indeed he was the only one of five Leicester-based players to get that far. O’Connor knocked out Steven Hallworth, Ken Doherty and Anthony Hamilton before a narrow 3-2 reverse against Zhou Yuelong.
His achievement came in front of a home crowd at the Morningside Arena, and the presence of family and friends allowed him to thrive on the occasion.
“It was a little bit of extra pressure, which I like,” he admitted. “You want to put on a good performance for everyone who has come to watch and prove yourself to them.
“I seem to play quite well under a bit of pressure. It’s just nice to know when you’re losing a frame you can hear them supporting you on a good shot and it just makes you relax.”
O’Connor is ranked 57 in the world but is aiming much higher. “The first goal is to stay on the tour,” he said. “But I would love to push on to the top 32 by the end of the season.
“If I could get into the top 48 by the World Championship, that would put me in the third round which would be a nice achievement also.”
Only £8,250 separates him from Jimmy Robertson in 48th, and £45,250 from Xiao Guodong in 32nd, meaning O’Connor will have to put in some impressive performances against the world’s best.
At next month’s BetVictor Northern Ireland Open he will have a fantastic opportunity to prove himself amongst the elite. He faces four-time World Champion John Higgins, a man he has beaten twice in four meetings.
“I can’t look past John, he’s a great and he had a 147 in the British Open so he’s obviously on form,” said O’Connor. “However I’m playing quite well myself so I’m just going to give it my all and see what happens. I have never had a good run in Belfast but hopefully this is the year.
“I’m making sure I’m match sharp and playing as many top professionals as I can leading up to it. I know I can beat them because I’ve done it before.”
One of the players O’Connor might take on in practice is world number one Mark Selby, with whom he shares his birthplace, and has history with.
“I’ve known Mark since my pool days, and I’ve always looked up to him since then. Before the pandemic I used to go over and play him a couple of times a month and you learn so much from watching him.
“Even if you get beat, and often I do, you learn from the way he goes about the table or the way break builds, the way he plays certain shots,” he said.
“He doesn’t get an enormous amount of credit for his break building but it’s up there with the best and the way he develops balls and goes into the pack, it’s great to watch and take notes.”
Tickets for the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast from October 9-17 are on sale now – for details click here.