A month ago I wrote in this place that 32-year-old Mark Allen could be the man to eventually usurp the current hegemony of the so-called “class of ’92”, namely Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams, who all turned pro in that year and are all still winning tournaments well into their forties.
In this year’s UK Championship, which ended yesterday evening, he did not (quite) do that, but he made the final. His opponent – inevitably – was O’Sullivan.
It was a good match, if not a great one. The first four frames were shared 2-2, O’Sullivan making a century in frame two and an 85 in frame four, while Allen fired a rapid 74 in frame three. But O’Sullivan then rattled off the next four, finishing the afternoon session 6-2 ahead. The eight frames had averaged just 14 minutes each.
When play resumed at 7pm, neither player started brilliantly, but it was O’Sullivan who prevailed in a scrappy frame nine: he was now 7-2 up. Allen used to be a moody player, bad-tempered in his criticisms of others even, and in frame 10 he looked irritated, clanging the rest against its hooks as he replaced it. But he was saved by a perplexingly poor shot by O’Sullivan, so bad that it was hard to tell whether he had tried to pot a red into the left-top pocket or play it so as to dump the cue ball tight to the top cushion. He did neither. Allen won the frame.
Moody and bad-tempered Allen may once have been, but now he looked steely. He won frame 11 with a fine 105 clearance, closing to within three: 7-4. But O’Sullivan responded with two in a row. At 9-4 down, Allen now had to win all six remaining frames.
Surely it was impossible. Perhaps it was, but Allen began frame 14 imperturbably. Quickly 72 points up, half-way through a potential maximum break, he missed a red into the right-middle. O’Sullivan failed to capitalise, and Allen dished up with a stylish 68 clearance. He won the next frame too – and, in response to what appeared to be a beer-fuelled yell of encouragement from a friend, shouted back, “They need to stop serving you, mate!” Soon they did, for O’Sullivan took frame 16 efficiently, and thereby won 10-6.
OK, the Pistol failed to beat the Rocket, but it is worth noting the list of players he vanquished en route: Neil Robertson (world No10) in the last 16, Stephen Maguire (No15) in the quarter-finals and Stuart Bingham (No14) in the semis. By contrast, at the same stages, O’Sullivan beat Jack Lisowski (No17), Martin O’Donnell (No59) and Tom Ford (No36) – good players all but a trio of neither the pedigree nor the obduracy of those Allen overcame.
Even so, O’Sullivan was a worthy winner yesterday. He celebrated by emptying a bottle of water over himself – we know not why. “Mark is a great player who’ll be world champion one day,” he said. Indeed he will.