Danny Hall’s Crucible column: Ding shouldn’t need luck of the Irish to beat Cork’s Casey...

Ding Junhui. Image: World Snooker/Tai Chengzhe
Ding Junhui. Image: World Snooker/Tai Chengzhe
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One is a 25-year-old amateur from Ireland who ranks below namesakes on Google who are managing directors, vice-presidents and Technology Strategists at Dell.

The other is the most successful player ever to emerge from China, an emerging hotbed of snooker. He has 11 ranking titles, almost 400 career maximums and 100 million fans, who watched his Masters final win in 2011.

Yet this weekend, Cork’s Greg Casey and superstar Ding Junhui will face off at Sheffield’s Ponds Forge as equals.

Casey is 126th in the world, and shouldn’t present too much of a problem for former World No.1 Ding. But his very presence in qualifiers at all, is big news.

Barely two years ago, Ding was big news, too. He’d just won five ranking titles in a single season - equalling a snooker record - and nearly beat it, losing to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final of the Welsh Open.

But such success has eluded him since and despite reaching three semi-finals and reaching No.1 in the world last season, Ding ended it trophy-less. Last year, he lost in the first round of six successive events.

Beating Ricky Walden to the Haining Open - his first win in almost 18 months - suggested the tide was turning, before he met Sheffield amateur Adam Duffy in the UK Championship and tumbled out.

It couldn’t get much worse from there for the Chinese superstar, and things are looking up. The sixth 147 of his career came against Neil Robertson at the Welsh Open, and he reached the semi-finals of the World Grand Prix before losing to eventual winner, Shaun Murphy.

Form is temporary, as they say, but class is permanent - and the man tipped by many as a future world champion could yet be one to watch when the real action kicks off at the Crucible on April 16.

Elsewhere on these pages, local lad Joel Walker admits it would mean everything to him to make the Crucible - and make history as the first Sheffield-born player to do so.

Steve Davis, Jimmy White, Kyren Wilson and ladies World Champion Ng On Yee will also be among the players in action in the qualifiers, which run from April 6 to 13. Tickets are on sale now and an all-day ticket costs £10. For more information, ring 0114 2233777 or log on to www.worldsnooker.com/tickets