Snooker System

Mark Allen EXCLUSIVE Interview: Scaling the Crucible Mountain

Those who know the Pistol know he is never one to shy away from a battle on the baize.


Blessed with a ginormous heart and an abundance of bottle, Mark Allen arrives in Sheffield this year with the pressure of his best ever season behind him. He says he believes he can become world champion every year – and 2023 is no different.


His journey over the past year is an intriguing one. Life-changing decisions have seen him shed more than six stone of bodyweight and it’s helped him to win three major titles this season.


Another of his great strengths is self-belief. He says his dream is to become world number one and world champion – both of which are within his grasp at the Crucible.


He spoke exclusively to Snooker System this week as he gears up for the challenge. He talks about his record in Sheffield, reflects on his fantastic campaign and why everything is in place for him to fulfil his ambitions on the table.


Thank you for speaking to us Mark. It’s quite the coup for us as a new blog on the block. Firstly, a massive well done on an epic season. You’re the highest ranked player on the one-year list. That must feel brilliant.


Yeah I’m absolutely delighted. The standard is as high as it has ever been right the way down the rankings. You can lose to anyone on the tour so to be top of the tree means I’m doing a lot of things right. But you know me: I’m a perfectionist and I’m always trying to find that bit extra. I still feel like there’s a lot of improving I can do but as long as I’m winning matches and winning tournaments, I’m heading in the right direction.


Did you have a feeling at the start of the season that it could end up being a special one or has it come out of the blue a bit?


It’s a strange one because I probably took my longest ever break after last year’s World Championship. I took 11 weeks off which is something I never normally do. I had a few things going on in my life and snooker was the last thing on my mind, so the break helped me to get myself back into a good place. It (the break) did mean that when I first came back I was really rusty, but I knew I’d been working really hard off the table. I got on a run to the final of the British Open and it all started from there.


You’ve won three ranking titles this season. Kudos for that but the big one was the UK Championship in York. We know you love the big occasion so how do you look back on that?


Yeah it was a massive win. I have felt over the years that the UK has gone a little bit backwards with its place in the game with the shortening of the format and the outside tables. But when they swapped it to a 32-man tournament this year it felt like a proper event again.


You’re straight onto the main tables and it was great to have that back. It was no fun at all to play my good friend Jordan (Brown) in the first round. It was a game that could have gone either way and then from there it became a new tournament for me. I was mentally good all week. I was behind in every match but kept believing. In the final, I managed to play my best snooker from 6-1 down to beat Ding. It was a special win.


We’ve talked about how good your season has been. That means a bit of extra pressure as we go to Sheffield. But it must be nice that people are talking about you as a real threat to win the title?


Probably all of that really. It is nice but it will add pressure. The thing is no-one really expects more from me than me. Regardless of whatever people are saying, I always believe I will win the World Championship. I’m always extremely optimistic going to Sheffield every year but this year I feel like I’m probably in my best shape off the table. I am just really looking forward to it.


I actually feel like I’ve shown a lot of different aspects I haven’t shown to my game in the past. I’ve won three tournaments this season without being at my absolute best and a lot of players don’t do that when they are at their best so the signs are good.


Despite the season you’ve had, there have still been some critics. You’ve been accused of playing too slowly and now there’s a lot of scrutiny around your recent form because it’s dipped off a little. How do you feel about that part of the game? It’s quite fickle.


The people in the studios and the commentary boxes have to talk about something. You often find that the same people who were giving me credit at the start of the season for battling it out are now saying I’m being too negative and going too slow. You can’t really win but none of that really bothers me. I just want to compete as best as I can and I’ll do whatever I need to do on any given day to do that.


People are maybe expecting you to go for everything and score freely but the game just isn’t that easy. It’s not really that simple. I’ve probably played the best snooker on the practice table in the last month and my results have been the opposite. It’s a strange game and I’m hoping it all comes out in Sheffield. I believe in Sheffield that you do have to find your form. It is too tough of a tournament not to. I’m going to have to find my scoring boots. I’m well aware that in the last nine matches I haven’t made a century and that’s just not me at all. That’s something I need to improve on.


Taking everything you’ve said into consideration, you must be feeling very confident this year.


Absolutely. I started working with mind coach Paul Gaffney about a year ago and we really went goal orientated. The top of that list was to become world number one and be world champion. Any win along the way feels like another step towards the peak of the mountain we are trying to reach.


I feel like I’ve ticked a few boxes this season but it’s nice to go to the World Championship knowing I can fulfil both of those dreams. I feel like my game is good enough to win. I am very confident but I appreciate how tough it is going to be as well.


It's an old cliché but I’ll be trying to take one match and one frame at a time but if I’m standing there on the 1st of May with a chance of winning the tournament, it would be a dream come true.


I must start by saying that I mean this as a compliment but your record at Sheffield is scandalous for a player as good as you. You haven’t reached the last four since 2009. How do you get your head around that?


It feels so strange. Let alone the semi-finals, I can’t really remember my last quarter-final there. I think it’s probably been a mixture of things. I’ve played poorly in some matches there and deserved to lose. I’ve also come up against performances that have been out of this world and then lost the odd close one too.


It’s about being on the right end of those close matches that could make the difference. It is so hard because you get one chance a year at the World Championship and everyone is trying to do the same things. If I could put my finger on it, believe me I would be trying to change it.


Ultimately, I have to be patient and keep working hard. I know I can do it because I’ve won every other tournament the game has to offer so hopefully my time will come. I want to do it because playing snooker is what I love to do, it’s my profession. Winning the world title is the ultimate goal but if I don’t win it, it won’t be because of a lack of effort.


Being realistic too, there are a lot of good players around and you’re not the only player who people say should have won a world title. There are also loads of players who people think should have won more too but the maths just doesn’t work, does it?


Exactly and there’s just no god given right to win the world title. You can’t take them away from anyone who has won them. You might look at Bingham as one of the ones people may not have expected to win it but he probably had the toughest draw anyone has had and he played phenomenal snooker. You get out what you deserve and that’s why I believe I will be world champion. If it doesn’t happen this year, I feel like I have still progressed. I will probably end the season with my highest ever ranking.


Last year you bumped into Ronnie in the second round en route to his seventh world title. You weren’t at your best but what did you make of O’Sullivan and how he was playing before making history? You were closer to him than all of us as fans.


It’s hard to judge because I think he won the World Championship at a canter and I don’t even feel like he played his best. It’s weird because it doesn’t say that much for the rest of us me saying that.


He beat me 13-4 and that’s as one-sided as it gets but I didn’t feel he was brilliant; he was just proficient. He didn’t really miss any balls when he was in. He didn’t score really heavily but he just played the right shots and his safety was immaculate. He just looked unbelievably focused and I’ve always said that if you get Ronnie when he’s totally switched on, he’s a totally dangerous animal.


When he’s flying round the table making breaks, I sometimes think he’s at his most vulnerable but when he’s playing his best it’s about his all-round game. He beat me in the UK final one year. He beat me 10-6 and I’d never seen him look so focused and that’s what I saw again in Sheffield. You should be zoned in from the very first ball but Ronnie’s a bit different and he’s not really like that. You could see what it really meant to him last year. I got to see it up close and he’s a beast of a player at the end of the day.


There’s a lot of negativity in the air at the moment around snooker. It’s probably not best to get into all that but does this give Sheffield the opportunity to feel extra special this year as it can bring back a feelgood factor to the game?


I really, really hope so. There’s been a lot of negative talk and obviously I’ve been one of the ones that has said a few things but in general the game is not in as bad a place as it’s made out to be. Coming to Sheffield now with all the history that’s attached to it feels like good timing. They’re trying to do something new with the Century Club and it’s good to see them trying things like this. I am sure it’ll be a fantastic tournament and I can’t wait for it to get started.


I must mention your weight loss journey because I feel it really could be crucial to your chances this year. Did the decision to get fit and healthy come from snooker or other reasons?


It was a mixture of everything really. I wasn’t really happy with where I was at in life. It was a frustrating time and I felt like it was affecting my snooker negatively. I could feel it in my breathing. I didn’t feel healthy and I was always conscious about how I looked when I was playing.


Even though I’ve lost nearly six and a half stone, I still feel like I’ve got too much of a belly and am still conscious of how I look but I know that I look much better and I feel much better for it. It’s all been good and if it prolongs my life and allows me to be around for my daughter for longer then I know I’ve done the right thing.


And on the table. Do you think it could play a part in helping you to win the world title?


I certainly hope so. If I can get through those first few rounds, I would like to think that the stamina is going to be there. I’ve even been going to the gym in the last few months and that’s been really helping my energy levels. I have prepared the best I can on and off the table and I’ll be going giving it my all. That’s all I can ever do.


A final one before I let you go. It feels like you’ve taken things to the next level with your game this season. Does it feel like you’re in a new chapter of your career?


The work I’ve been doing on the mental side is making a real difference to my mindset. I believe I am one of the very, very top players in the game and three ranking titles this season tells you where I am.


Honestly, I can only see myself improving from here. It’s the game I love, the game I grew up playing and the only thing I’m good at in life. I want to give it my best shot and I feel like there were so many things I was doing wrong off the table for so many years and because of that I wasn’t giving myself the best chance. I feel like I’m in a good place, so let’s see.


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