For a man nicknamed ‘The Pistol’, Mark Allen’s season has been one of misfire.
Here is a straight-talking bloke from Antrim in Northern Ireland who admits the swagger surrounding his labour of love has been shot to pieces.
The world number 11 and former world amateur champion Allen, arrives at the ultimate event in snooker with his game in a parlous state.
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A season spent shooting himself in the foot has left the Pistol’s “confidence on the floor”.
In 13 ranking events played so far, Allen has tanked: the highlight being a quarter-final place at the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast last November, a tournament where he thinks he played “probably the worst snooker of my season” in losing 5-2 to Anthony Hamilton.
Allen opens his campaign against English qualifier Jimmy Robertson, the world number 39, on Sunday evening. He is a 40-1 shot for the title in his 11th straight appearance here.
The odds sound charitable when you listen to him discuss his malaise on the baize. Yet while Allen has been misfiring, he has not washed up at the Crucible ready to be pistol-whipped, so to speak.
“It is different coming here for me this year because my form has been terrible whereas the past five or six years I’ve come here on the back of some sort of success and a tournament win,” Allen tells Eurosport.
“It is completely different this year. Even in Northern Ireland, I probably played the worst snooker of my season.

Mark Allen at the Masters.

Image credit: Eurosport

“I scraped through to the last eight for the fans really. Nobody expects me to do well here looking at me from the outside.
I’m struggling for wins, struggling for match wins. I come here with little expectation, but maybe that is a good thing.
“I usually turn up expecting to do well, and end up disappointed. Yet we all know this game can do special things to you.
“And this is a special place that can bring out the best in you.
“Every year when you come here, it gives you goosebumps.”
Allen's best run in these parts was losing an epic semi-final 17-13 to four-times champion John Higgins in 2009. It was a tournament where he enjoyed a 13-11 win over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the last eight. He has also compiled two runs to the quarter-finals in 2010 and 2011.
If Bristol’s Judd Trump is rated as the best player in the field never to have won the World Championship, Allen, a left-handed strategist renowned for his aggressive play, can’t be far behind.
He is 17th on the all-time list of century makers with a growing haul of 306 with ranking event victories at the 2012 and 2013 World Open, and last year’s Players Championship.
For a figure who has had to battle the black dog of depression, Allen is well aware of the need for a positive mental outlook.
“If I knew what was wrong, I’d pinpoint it and work on it. I’m doing more hours of practice than ever,” conceded Allen.
“I’ve been tinkering with stuff over the past two months because I was on the floor confidence-wise.
“Two weeks ago, I was still on the floor, but I feel I’ve found something in practice and I’ve been playing some good snooker.
“I remember the match with John here like it was yesterday. I lost the second session 7-1, and I played really well. John played snooker from the Gods, and I was 13-3 down.
“I went out, and was aggressive in the third session. It was the best match I’ve been involved in even though I lost because John was completely gone. I got it back to 15-12, and 16-13.
“It was only his bottle and experience that got him over the line. I spoke to John recently, and he admitted he was gone.
“I have to remember experiences like that when I come back here.”
Form is temporary, class is permanent as they say. But confidence can be an elusive butterfly when it decides to float off.
Allen did reach the last four of the invitational China Championship and Champion of Champions in November to suggest there is no need to panic.
“You would think over the years, that shots are always in your locker,” said Allen. “Maybe even through muscle memory.
“I think snooker is the most mental game going, you’ve so much time alone with your thoughts. And that isn’t a good place to be.

Allen slots brilliant black against Higgins

“But it is easy to get on a roll. I sometimes have to remember that I’m a good player, and have done well in the game so far. Sometimes you have to go back to basics, and enjoy it for what it is.
“For too long, I was working on so much, and I would forget to hit the shot. I’m going to go out to do what I did as a younger player, be aggressive and see where it takes me.
I think I’ve been too worried about playing perfect snooker. You don’t need to play perfect snooker to win here. Mark Selby didn’t play his best snooker to win here last year, he just played solid match snooker.
“He is just so mentally tough. You have to be mentally tough above anything to win here.
“I’ve won plenty of events over the years against the best in the game so I know if I can win them, I can come here and win.”
The affable Allen is aiming to become the third Northern Irishman to become world champion after iconic hellraiser Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins in 1972 and 1982, and Dennis Taylor in 1985.
The game has changed remarkably since those days, but Allen believes the sport should not be looking back with any regret.

mark allen and matthew stevens 2013 world open final

Image credit: From Official Website

Allen said: “There are some characters in snooker, but with so much money in the game, it is a serious business.
“I think there are characters, but it is hard for them to come out, for personalities to be on show.
Perhaps what people see as characters back then, with the drinking, smoking and hitting people, stuff like that, isn’t what we want to be now.
“There are plenty of people with character, but you are out there to do your job.
“I’m 31, and feel like I’m a lot more mature. I’d like to think I’ve got another 10 good years in me.
“I’m still very proud of getting into the top 16 after just three seasons on tour. If I don’t win another event, I can look back and say I won nine tournaments, and reached number five in the world. “
Allen would like to look back and say he was a world champion. He arrives in the Steel City armed with steely ambition.
He is in the right frame of mind to begin his pursuit of redemption.
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