Causeway Chronicle

Allen Set To Chase Snooker History In Belfast

Mark Allen heads to the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open in Belfast next week with the chance to become only the fifth player in snooker history to win the same ranking title in three consecutive years.

The Antrim cueman lifted the Alex Higgins Trophy in 2021 and 2022, and a third straight triumph would see him join a very elite group of players who have won a particular ranking event for three years in a row, alongside Ray Reardon, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Judd Trump.

In fact Trump’s trio of victories came at the Northern Ireland Open in 2018, 2019 and 2020, which means that only two different players have captured the title over the past five years.

This year’s event at the Waterfront Hall runs from October 22 to 29, with Allen defending the title and the likes of Trump, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson, Mark Williams, Shaun Murphy, Kyren Wilson and many more also in the field.

Tickets for certain sessions, from just £15, are still available but must be booked fast, for details visit www.wst.tv/tickets

World number four Allen edged out John Higgins 9-8 in the 2021 final then enjoyed a more comfortable 9-4 defeat of Zhou Yuelong in 2022 at the superb Waterfront venue.

“I have great memories of the last two years, playing in front of the home fans is something special,” said 37-year-old Allen, who starts his campaign against Belgium’s Ben Mertens at 7pm on Sunday. “It would be amazing to replicate Reardon, Davis, Hendry and Trump and follow in their footsteps, but I have to win seven matches so there’s a long way to go.

“It will just nice to be there and enjoy it rather than hating it as I did in the first few years I played in this event. I felt the pressure too much and I was playing for the wrong reasons. I have nothing more to prove now and I have repaid the fans now for all the heartbreak I caused them for a few years!

“It took me a while to realise I should be playing for myself, not for the people of Northern Ireland, my family and friends. I made a conscious decision three years ago treat it like any other event, I even stayed in a hotel, away from the club and my family. That helped me turn the corner.”

Looking back on his two finals, Allen added: “I enjoyed them both in very different ways. The one with Higgins was brilliant because he has his own support in Belfast and I was just happy to be involved in that atmosphere, it was one of the best I have ever played in and I would have said that even if I had lost. At 8-8 we both went out to toilet and said to each other ‘this is why we play.’

“Last year against Zhou I was able to relax and enjoy it more because I had a good lead. I made a century in the last frame and once the break got to 60 I was able to soak up the occasion and play a few exhibition shots for the crowd.”

Allen won the Masters in 2018 and the UK Championship last year, during a career-best 2022/23 season in which he landed three ranking titles. But he still names the 2021 final with Higgins in Belfast as his best moment on the baize. “I would honestly say that’s the one that will live with me the longest,” he said. “To do it in front of my home fans is my best achievement.”

Following a run to the quarter-finals of last week’s Wuhan Open, Allen hopes he is coming into form, and he has plenty of ambition as he looks ahead. “I want to be world number one and World Champion,” he added. “I feel like I have the game to do it. I have won everything else so why not the world title?”

Michael Anderson

Michael Anderson