Tuesday 15 October 2019

Allen joins big boys of the green baize

Weird Wide World of Sport

Mark Allen celebrates with his daughter after beating Kyren Wilson in the final of The Masters
Mark Allen celebrates with his daughter after beating Kyren Wilson in the final of The Masters

Dave Devereux

They say good things come to those who wait.

Unfortunately, that old adage doesn't always ring true as once I waited patiently for almost an hour for my grub in a restaurant only to be served up a plate that was about as palatable as a dog's dinner.

However, the saying does hold real resonance for Northern Ireland's Mark Allen, who landed The Masters title by beating Kyren Wilson in a tense final on Sunday. 'The Pistol' had won three ranking events in his career, but this was his first time to get his hands on a much-coveted triple crown trophy.

I must admit I have been guilty in the past of losing my full interest once Ronnie O'Sullivan has been knocked out of a major tournament due to the extra edge and excitement he brings to the table, and whenever he decides to hang up his cue will be a sad day for the sport.

Despite his occasional ridiculous rants and his threat to not play in this year's World Championships unless the powers-that-be come begging with cap in hand, when he's in full flow he's a joy to watch.

His 6-0 demolition of Marco Fu in the first round of the Masters was a case in point, but he was then firmly put in his place by an inspired Mark Allen in his next match.

It's pleasing to see the guy who beat The Rocket going on to win the tournament.

It happens so often in all sports that the underdog topples the giant, but then rests on their laurels and fails to make hay while the sun shines.

Allen proved he is a different animal though. You could tell from the steely determination in his eyes in his post-match interview that a win over O'Sullivan would be worth nothing if he didn't follow it up by winning the tournament.

And that he did, going on to beat another highly-decorated champion, John Higgins, in the semi-final along the way.

It's 40 years since another Higgins, the late, great Alex, won his first Masters title and the significance wasn't lost on his fellow Northern Irishman.

For such a small place it's amazing the amount of world class sportsmen that the six counties has produced.

Higgins and Dennis Taylor paved the way in snooker long before Allen picked up a cue. In golf Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke have all won at the highest level, and it has produced a plethora of champion boxers like Barry McGuigan, Paddy Barnes, Carl Frampton and Wayne McCullough.

Footballers George Best, Danny Blanchflower, Norman Whiteside and Pat Jennings are household names, while rugby giants Willie John McBride, Mike Gibson and Jack Kyle all starred for Ireland.

Competitors from north of the border have a rich history in motor sports, like motorcycling legend Joey Dunlop, former Formula One star Eddie Irvine as well as current Superbike world champion Jonathan Rea.

You can add to the list Olympic gold medallist Mary Peters, the greatest National Hunt jockey of all time AP McCoy, as well as one of the finest-ever forwards in Gaelic football, Peter Canavan, among others.

Anyway, back to the man of the moment, Mark Allen. He's not a player that I was overly fond of, or perhaps more accurately, a player I never really paid that much attention to.

However, I really warmed to the Antrim man as the week wore on, particularly when I listened to him candidly speak about his battle with depression and how his wife Kyla helped him to turn his life around.

When anybody speaks openly about the issue, little by little it helps to chip away at the stigma surrounding mental health.

The way Allen plays the game in an attacking and brisk manner is also pleasing to the eye.

He mightn't be quite as quick around the table and as carefree in his demeanour as his fellow countryman 'Hurricane' Higgins, but his control of the cue ball and break-building is a joy to behold.

In scenes reminiscent of Higgins' world title win in 1982, although without the floods of tears, an emotional Allen held his daughter after the breakthrough. It's nice to see a new face winning one of snooker's major events, and at 31 years of age the deserved success was a long time coming.

The fact that his vanquished opponent, Kyren Wilson, is the first player born in the 1990s to reach the final of a triple crown event and players the wrong side of 40, like O'Sullivan and John Higgins, are still among the best in the game, shows everything is not quite as rosy as Barry Hearn et al would have you believe.

That won't concern Mark Allen though. Who knows what he could go on to achieve now he's a Master.

Wexford People