UK Championship countdown: Mark Allen seeks crowning moment at York Barbican
The 37-year-old enjoyed the best season of his career in 2022/23 winning the UK title at the York Barbican, to add to silverware at the Northern Ireland Open and World Grand Prix.
And while every title is precious, Allen knows true snooker greats are measured on their Triple Crown titles. They are the sport’s three blue ribbon tournaments – two of them take place in Yorkshire – next week’s UK Championship, January’s Masters and end-of-season World Championship in Sheffield.
The Antrim potter has two, having only won the Masters title before success in York 12 months ago.
That is all the motivation Allen needs as he returns to Yorkshire next week.
To put that into context, Ronnie O’Sullivan – arguably the best player to ever pick up a snooker cue – has 21 Triple Crown titles, Stephen Hendry has 18 and Steve Davis has 16, while 11 players have completed a career Triple Crown by capturing all three.
“Judd Trump won 11 ranking events in two seasons, which is crazy,” said Allen, in an interview in the official UK Championship programme. “I’d love to do something like that.
“But I think in 20, 30 or 40 years, people won’t remember the Gibraltar Open champion. They are going to remember who won the UK Championship, the World Championship and the Masters.
“Unfortunately for Judd, that is the way things are. People will remember the major winners.
“He has won four and I’ve only won two, so he is doing better than me. Ronnie has won 21 and that is the ultimate goal we all have to get to.
“I’ve won a lot of tournaments over the last 12 years, but ultimately you are going to be judged on those bigger titles. I’d only won the Masters before winning the UK Championship.
“It was great to get a second on the board, but I’m going to keep pushing for more. Getting that Triple Crown and winning the World Championship would be massive.
“I’m definitely going in the right direction, which is what you want to do in your career.”
Winning the UK title is hard, retaining it has proven elusive for most. Only O’Sullivan, Hendry and Davis have won back-to-back titles.
Allen – who beat Ding Junhui 10-7 in last year’s final – is confident he can become the fourth member of that elite group.
“I’ve defended tournaments twice in the past. I know I can do it,” said Allen, who will open this year’s UK Championship next Saturday afternoon against one of the 16 qualifiers. “I will just focus on my game, enjoy it and see where it takes me. Going there as defending champion should take pressure off as I’ve already done it.
“It will be a special feeling. That is what we play the game for, to win these major tournaments and to be introduced the following year as defending champion. Going out there in packed arenas live on TV.
“That is what we want to do. It is only the second time I’ll have done it in a major and hopefully there will be more to come.”
Allen’s win in York last year was certainly a rollercoaster ride.
He trailed 2-0 to both Jordan Brown and Kyren Wilson, 4-2 against Sam Craigie, and then 5-3 to Jack Lisowski in the semi-finals, but showed his battling qualities to dig deep and progress.
Then in the final, he was 6-1 down to Sheffield-based Ding – who like Allen has won both the UK crown (three times) and Masters, but failed to win the coveted Crucible title – only to claw his way back to triumph 10-7.
Work with sport psychologist Paul Gaffney, and a new fitness regime, certainly paid dividends.
“The psychological side was so important for me in York last year,” he said. “I was two or more frames behind in every single match that week.
“I didn’t have my best stuff and I was always behind and fighting against it. I hung in there and gave myself a chance. I was well behind against Ding in the final but I played my best stuff of the week in the latter stages of that match. It is a great sign to produce your best when you need it the most.
“No matter how far behind you are, the question to ask yourself is ‘can I win the next frame?’
“Ultimately the answer is always yes. If you keep doing that then you keep slowly getting back into the match. When I got back from 6-1 to 6-4 against Ding, I really fancied the job. I felt I’d turned a corner in the game and he started to miss a few. I was patient and didn’t get too far ahead of myself.”
Tickets for certain sessions in York are still available from just £22, for details see www.wst.tv/tickets