When Mark Allen was hammered 13-4 by Ronnie O’Sullivan in the second round of the World Championship last April it was clear something had to change. Or was it?
The Northern Irishman had still earned £230,000 from the campaign and remained a member of the elite top 16. For many, this would constitute a successful career.
But Allen took it seriously when a friend told him he needed to lose weight if he was to eventually walk his daughter, Harleigh, down the aisle. Years of late-night food binges to take the edge off disappointments and cope with the solitude of the snooker tour had left the 36-year-old overweight. His personal life had spiralled too, with bankruptcy and the break up of his relationship.
UK Championship
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In the summer, he lost close to five stones. He got engaged again and gradually sorted his problems out.
The result of Allen 2.0 on the table has been spectacular. Last night he won the UK Championship with a stunning recovery from 6-1 down to Ding Junhui. In doing so he became the 13th player in the game’s history to win back-to-back ranking titles, having retained his Northern Ireland Open crown last month, and has swelled his seasonal earnings to £397,500.
Allen had long been earmarked as a star of the future. He captured the Northern Ireland amateur title at every age division, as well as the world and European amateur titles and just about everything else he could win as a junior.
His first match as a professional when he was just 19 was in an invitational event in his native Belfast. He beat Steve Davis and then John Higgins to suggest he was a serious prospect. His name was firmly on the radar, but when your hobby becomes your profession some of the fun goes out of it.
The reality of the circuit can often be different to its glamorous image. It’s checking in and out of hotels, hanging around airports, eating badly and drinking because it kills time. Allen became isolated at first on trips abroad, leading to a regrettable Twitter tirade against the Chinese city of Haikou during the World Open a decade ago.
Despite this, Allen still won the tournament, his first success in a ranking event. He defended it a year later and picked up several more titles as the years progressed, including the Masters in 2018 and Champion of Champions in 2020.
However, his form seemed to go missing during seasons when more consistent players more regularly collected trophies. At the Crucible, his record is underwhelming, with just one semi-final appearance in 2009.
Now, he has appeared in the last three ranking finals. He has a new, hard edge to his game, playing the percentages, being patient, waiting for chances and then ruthlessly taking them.
His composure in York was exemplary all week, including at 6-1 down in the final to Ding, who had compiled three century breaks to threaten an early night. Allen has always been a bottle player, now he has an all-round game which indicates he can go on competing consistently for titles.
A heart-on-sleeve type, he admits to personal mistakes but also has a strong belief in community. During the pandemic he delivered food for pensioners where he lived, striking up a particular friendship with one elderly man who lived on his own.
He grew up in the shadow of two Northern Ireland greats, Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor, who each won the world title and plenty more besides. Though recognising their achievements, Allen says he wants to establish his own legacy. His triumph in York suggests he is well on his way.

'I felt so good' - Allen on inspired UK Championship final comeback against Ding

His victory brought to an end a memorable week in York, full of incidents on and off the table.
There were shades of the old Davis-Higgins rivalry in the comments made by Shaun Murphy about O’Sullivan, a confrontation between an establishment figure and a rebel.
Murphy plays everything by the book and is a passionate and positive advocate for snooker. O’Sullivan, defiantly his own man, says the first thing that comes to mind, regardless of the consequences.
Murphy’s specific complaints about O’Sullivan not demonstrating more gratitude to snooker are shared by many others on the circuit but not by the wider public, who continue to flock to venues to watch him play. Ultimately, this is his considerable worth. It’s the reason his image continues to be prominent in all tournament marketing.
Players have grown up in snooker clubs where no one is allowed to get above their station. In this spirit, Allen delivered an epic slap down to Murphy, tweeting that his back and neck trouble must be a result of the chip on his shoulder.
This is all good bantz and we need more of it if snooker’s modern professionals are to be distinguishable characters, identifiable to the public at large. They each see their sport slightly differently but have a collective responsibility to represent it in the best light.
At least they were made to feel special in York. The changes to the UK Championship format and overall fan experience went a long way to restoring the event to its former glories. It felt less cluttered with more of an emphasis on quality.
Players who participated in demonstrations in the Cue Zone area deserve particular praise. Judd Trump and Jack Lisowski delighted fans with their retinue of audacious shots during one such memorable session. It brought the paying public closer to the stars of the game and created more of a feeling that there was something happening besides the matches, that a ticket for the snooker was money well spent.
The challenge now for World Snooker Tour is to build up those tournaments with less of an identity, some of which suffer from being staged at below-par venues or from being moved around the country without establishing a recognised home.
Snooker can’t just rely on three tournaments a year to achieve a profile. The whole tour needs an uplift to compete for audiences at a time when money is tight and people are looking for value.
But the steps taken at York to improve the experience for ticket buyers deserve praise. This was a brilliant week of snooker, enthusiastically embraced by the crowds who were rewarded with an engrossing final.
And the way it ended portends that we will be seeing plenty more of Mark Allen 2.0 this season.

‘There is a target on his back now’ – O’Sullivan says other players will be revved up to play Allen

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UK Championship
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