BILLY JOE CASTLE admits personal struggles meant his mind was elsewhere during his first round Northern Ireland Open defeat against Stuart Carrington.

The Marchwood player went down 4-1 in Milton Keynes just a few days after discovering one of his best friends had been involved in a serious car accident.

The world number 92 was close to withdrawing from the Home Nations event and believes concerns away from the table inhibited his performance at the Marshall Arena.

“I’ve having a tough time at the minute,” said Castle, 28.

“At the weekend my best friend was in a serious car accident and is fighting for his life in hospital.

“The head’s not really with it. It was on my mind (when I was playing) – I was quite close to pulling out over the weekend, but I chatted to family members and they said I’m obviously not allowed in the hospital so there’s nothing I could do there.

“I’ve just come here – I’m sort of here but mind and soul are elsewhere, I’m afraid.

“It was a scrappy game and neither of us really settled in the match. It was just one of those games really. It was tough.”

World number 55 Carrington made a first frame break of 75 but neither player was able to follow that up with another half century in an attritional affair.

Castle has suffered a miserable start to his 2020-21 season, losing all of his first round ranking event matches having also gone down to a 5-2 defeat against 18-year-old Irish player Aaron Hill in German Masters qualifying.

The Northern Ireland Open is usually an event he thrives in, however, reaching the last 32 on the previous two occasions in Belfast but crashing out at the first hurdle this year in Milton Keynes as snooker adapts its calendar in response to COVID-19.

Castle lamented not being able to play at his ‘favourite’ Waterfront Hall but is hoping for an upturn in fortunes against Hossein Vafaei in the first round of the UK Championship next week.

“I’ve been around Milton Keynes so much now that every tournament feels the same,” he added.

“It doesn’t feel like Northern Ireland – Belfast is my favourite place to play so I was a bit disappointed that I can’t go back there with what’s happening.

“Hopefully next week I can kick on, get a good win against Hossein and that can kick-start me.

“I’m feeling good in practice, beating good players and doing everything that I can, but it just hasn’t worked for me in matches. I’m hoping it will turn around in the UK next week.”

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