Tomorrow afternoon in Shanghai, Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen will contest his fourth career full-ranking event final against Stuart Bingham, so what better time for me to publish part two of my recent interview with him, as I ask him whether his views on the recent developments in snooker have changed since his memorable press conference at the UK Championship back in 2011, while we also talk young players and his interests away from the table…
- Click here to read part one of the interview
PSB: As I say, you are the third youngest player in the top 16, only Ding and Judd are younger than you. The changes in the top 16 have been established players like Bingham and Hawkins moving up, rather than youngsters moving up…
MA: Yeah that’s right, you have got [Robert] Milkins and Mark Davis who have been journeyman, I think it’s safe to say that they wouldn’t think bad of me for saying that, but they have been journeyman professionals and now they are getting rewarded for all their work that they have put in.
It is surprising that there haven’t been more young ones to come through, but it just shows how good the ones we have mentioned are. If they are keeping the younger ones out they are obviously doing a better job than they are. It would be nice now, while you are saying that I am the third youngest in the top 16, to push on now and get ahead of a few more. It seems like I have been saying this for the last few years, but all I can keep doing is putting the work in on the practice table and hopefully the results will come.
If you keep winning tournaments, even if they are small ones like PTCs, then the rankings are going to take care of themselves.
PSB: Do you see any young up and coming players who have impressed you at all?
MA: I probably sound bad saying this but there really hasn’t been. Thepchaiya Un-Nooh looks like someone who could do really do damage, he is very aggressive, can pot from everywhere really, but again he hasn’t really done much and he has been on the tour for a few years now.
People like Jack Lisowski, Luca Brecel, Michael White, Jamie Jones, people that pundits were expecting big things from haven’t quite developed yet, and I know they are all still very young, but I think there is a big opportunity for those players to really push on and get to the big heights in the game and so far they haven’t done it. But they would still be the ones on my list, the ones to watch out for.
PSB: Is there anyone in Northern Ireland on the junior scene that we should be keeping an eye on?
MA: I would look pretty closely at the junior snooker in Northern Ireland because up until last month all the junior snooker was played in the club that I play at, it was easy for me to keep and eye on it and my step-son Robbie McGuigan now plays snooker and he plays in those tournaments and I keep an even closer eye on that again and without being ridiculously biased, he’s only 10 but my step-son is probably as big a prospect as anyone in junior snooker in Northern Ireland.
The standard really isn’t very good and he is able to compete at the under-16, under-19 level and he is only 10. He is just back from the Home Internationals in Leeds and he represented Northern Ireland there and although he didn’t win any matches, he competed in pretty much every one of them against people much older than him. So I think he has a bright future if he sticks at it, has the right attitude and gets in touch with the right coach! (laughs).
PSB: It was nice when I was at the Shanghai Masters qualifiers to catch up with Patrick Wallace, who I wasn’t expecting to see there! But he was in the area for the Home Internationals…
MA: Yeah that’s right, I think they went to watch Joe [Swail] against [Peter] Ebdon in the final qualifying round. I think those guys were just up the road in Leeds for the Home Internationals. I think It shows you, Patrick Wallace is still playing the amateur game here and he is as good as anyone we have got here, it shows that Northern Irish snooker has missed a generation. Since I came through really, there has been no-one since Swail, I think that pretty much says it all really.
It has missed a generation and something that myself and Joe Swail are working on at the minute is a junior programme across Northern Ireland to try to get more kids involved. It’s ongoing with the bigwigs at Stormont and all the politicians to see if we can get funding for it, but that is something we are working on because I think we look at it and we see there is really nothing here for the juniors at the minute.
It’s a shame because I think it is not just Northern Ireland that has been affected, all of the UK isn’t really supplying the juniors that it used to. Tournaments that there used to be 100 players in there are maybe 20 now, I think that shows how much it has gone backwards.
PSB: It’s the same for the Republic of Ireland too, obviously Fergal and Ken have been the mainstays for around 20 years now, there is David Morris too…
MA: David Morris looked like he could do stuff when he first came on the tour, I remember I used to play a lot of junior stuff against Davey and he was one that I thought would do really, really well and for one reason or another, he is hanging about on the tour. I think he actually might have dropped off and got back on through the Q School. So I don’t know, there’s just something not quite there at the minute in the whole of the UK.
I think part of that has to be that there is not as much snooker on TV now, domestically on the BBC as there used to be. Most of the tournaments now are abroad and maybe at funny hours of the day that people can’t view. I don’t know if that has had an effect or if it is just the recession or something that happens in a generation, but it definitely seems to be hurting snooker in the UK at the minute.
PSB: Obviously the tour has changed a lot over the last five years or so and you got yourself into a bit of trouble almost three years ago now at the UK Championship. Three years on have you changed your mind at all?
MA: If I am being brutally honest I don’t feel any different that I did then. I think quantity isn’t necessarily better. There are a lot more tournaments for us to play in, but a lot of the tournaments that have been added since [Barry] Hearn took over are really nothing events if I am being honest. I happen to have won a few of those nothing events…
PSB: It’s funny how things work out!
MA: Yeah it is. As much as there is added prize money to the tour, the expenditure has probably tripled. I would be the first to admit that I’ve been safely in the top 16 now for, this is my seventh season and I am far from being financially secure. If anything I have struggled in the last few years financially, it’s part of the reason why I left On Q. It’s not all it is cracked up to be if I am being brutally honest but obviously if you can compete in the main events and really get to the later stages in them, it does benefit you that the money has gone up dramatically in the World Championship, the UK Championship, the International Championship, the Masters, all of the big events.
But you can still have a good season without doing well in those and you are not getting rewarded financially. You need to be lucky to peak at the right tournaments to be financially well off. It’s a bit disappointing that way because you can look at a ranking list and it can be a bit deceiving because someone could be higher up because they have had a good run at the Worlds and there is someone maybe lower who has won a couple of events and happened to lose first round at the Worlds and things like that, so it is a bit deceptive and with not all monies being added to the money list. It is very, very deceiving the list to look at, unless you really know what you are talking about.
PSB: You may have seen that I did the interview with Neil Robertson last month and he said the same thing in terms of preferring the points list to the money list, I don’t know if you have a view on that?
MA: Yeah I would completely agree. I think ranking lists should reward players who are the best over the whole season, not one tournament that just happens to be a big money event…
PSB: More towards consistency…
MA: I think so, obviously I remember [Stephen] Hendry when he regained the number 1 spot in the mid-2000’s, he said I don’t want to be consistent, I want to be a consistent winner and I remember that was a great quote. But at the same time he would have been very proud at getting the number one spot back because of his consistency. At the minute consistency isn’t being rewarded. In the game with 130-odd professionals that there are now, knowing how hard the game is, I don’t think that consistency is a bad thing. If are able to compete consistently against the best players, I don’t think that is a bad thing at all, but at the minute Hearn’s system is all about winning.
You can get to quite a few finals in the season and not be very high up in the money list depending on the tournaments. It’s great if you are winning don’t get me wrong, someone like Robertson, I’m surprised to hear that he would prefer a points list…
PSB: Yeah he slaughtered it in his press conference after he lost to Selby and maybe some people thought that he would say that because he had lost his number one spot, but he was the same when I spoke to him last month after getting back to number one so fair play really…
MA: I am surprised to hear that because obviously he has done well in the big money events and made a lot of money over the last few years.
PSB: Going back to the European Tour events, now that you have had such a good start to those events and qualified for the Finals, does that give you scope to skip a few of the remaining events?
MA: Yeah, I’m not going to play in Bulgaria, I hadn’t planned on playing in Bulgaria regardless because I am going on a stag do on that weekend. It depends on where I am in the rankings if I feel I’ll enter any more PTCs, I might not play any more.
PSB: I guess you have your Haikou money coming off so if you can cover that…
MA: Yeah exactly. If I am being honest I am not even that bothered about it, I’ve seen the list that you released last night, the provisional end of year list and I am still 9 or 10 with the Haikou money off so I am not too bothered. There is plenty of money available. I will probably not go to India, it is just up to me. I know that I am a good enough player that I can miss a few events, whether they are majors or PTCs and still be fine in the rankings.
I am fed up really of looking at the rankings and worrying about where I need to be, I just need to get out there and play and I know that I am capable of winning a tournament or two a season. I am going to compete in some of them, others that I don’t win and that will take care of itself.
PSB: I think that you are probably doing the right thing because there is no point going into tournaments like Australia where your heart is not really in it and you go out first round…
MA: Yeah exactly, I sort of went there for the sake of it, I would be guaranteed a few quid and I thought if I go, I could do with a couple of grand and I went there for all of the wrong reasons and got beat first round and flew home the next day!
PSB: What is the place like where it is held?
MA: It’s not bad, there’s not a lot there. There is nothing bad about it but I think it could do with being somewhere a bit busier, like Sydney or Melbourne or something, I’m sure that would be better but obviously the contract that World Snooker have is that it will be held in Bendigo for another few years yet.
The only thing that surprised me with the new contract is that they haven’t upped the money because obviously one of the first tournaments that Mark Selby is going to be world champion at, he didn’t go to. I think that pretty much says what you need to know about Australia and the defending champion didn’t go. I think things like that are going to happen because it is a long, long way to go for not a lot of money. If you were to win the tournament don’t get me wrong, it’s great, but anything less than a tournament win and financially it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
I think it is very poor, considering how good a job Hearn has done at bringing all the new money in and increasing the prizes, especially to the winners because the winners prize money went up dramatically in a lot of tournaments. For him to let something like that go in Australia is surprising to say the least.
It is what it is, I don’t think that I will be back next year. It’s a long, long way to go and I think it is a bit early for me in the season. If I am being honest I would rather practice for a couple of weeks after the World Championship and play Wuxi and then take a break after Wuxi. I think I will probably do that next year. I have been trying to try new things with the calendar, the last few years I have been trying to find what works and I still haven’t found it yet, but I am still working, but I think this year that might be an option, go on holiday or something after Wuxi finishes.
A couple of other tournaments that I wouldn’t mind missing are maybe India and the China Open before the Worlds again. I felt great going into Sheffield this year, whether it was mentally because I didn’t have to go to China again or what but I felt great going into it and I know that Barry Hawkins felt exactly the same. Obviously he won the Players Championship and he could afford not to go to China, but I know that speaking to him recently, he is definitely thinking about doing it again and he felt that he had loads left for Sheffield.
Obviously the last few years there has been talk about burn out. I’m not 100% sure if I sign up to it, I have at times felt a bit tired but I think that’s partly down to me being overweight and a bit lazy, not playing too much snooker! But if some players do feel it, then missing China is definitely an option for them.
PSB: On a completely different note, having seen you play a lot, one thing I notice is that you often have a bit of banter with the opponent, chats, jokes and that sort of thing. Does that come naturally to you, have you always done that?
MA: Yeah, I think obviously there are some matches where you are not feeling it but I think all in all you have to go out there and enjoy it and you have to remember that people pay good money to come and watch and they deserve a bit more than just potting balls and walking back out. I think I give a good account of myself that way and I do like to enjoy myself, whether that is by trying trick shots or whatever at the end of a frame or even having a joke with the ref or an opponent, I think it is something that a lot of players could learn from.
PSB: I’ll be honest, when I was watching you play Hendry that year at the Crucible, I was a big Hendry fan and I wanted him to win, but after that I liked watching you so every year I booked tickets to watch you afterwards, so it does obviously attract people.
MA: Yeah I think as I say, it’s not all about winning. Some players ( naming no names in case I get fined), for some players it is all about winning and that’s not what I play snooker for. As much as I want to win and to earn loads of money and make sure myself and my family are secure, it is not all about that. I want to go out there and have fun. How many people are lucky enough to say that they enjoy what they get paid to do. I am one of the fortunate ones who can say that, so I like to go out there and show it.
There are people who I have played against and they look like someone has just died, you feel just hitting them and saying will you wake up and have some fun, I don’t get it at all.
There was a match in the qualifiers for Shanghai a couple of weeks ago and I think it took nearly seven hours to play a best of nine and it didn’t even go to a decider. That there if someone has paid tickets to go in, even if you got free entry you didn’t get value for money.
PSB: I know there was someone there who watched all of that one…
MA: Was it you?
PSB: No it wasn’t! I only went on the last day thankfully!
MA: How can anyone either watching or even playing in that match enjoy it? I don’t understand it and there are more than just those two, there are plenty of people in the game who do what they need to do to win, no matter how long it takes and I’m not about that. There are certain shots in a match that crop up and you think this takes a bit of time, but all in all there is no reason to really be dwelling on shots, you need to get on with it and try to entertain as well.
PSB: Well after what you did that time when you put the rest into all of the balls…
MA: That’s what I mean, it was just getting a bit slow so I thought I would open the reds up!
PSB: Going back to the banter point, how hard is it to have close friends on the tour, obviously you are close to people like Joe and Fergal, but how difficult is it to have that when they are also professional rivals?
MA: I find it not too bad because I can zone in and zone out. People like Joe obviously I have known for a long time and I am very friendly with, maybe it is a bit different, even someone like Fergal who I practice with regularly, I find that a bit different, but other than that I am alright.
I am friends with pretty much everyone on the tour so I can’t afford to have too many friends on the table. I think most of the people that I am friends with, at the end of the day if we are really friends we can go out there and hammer each other on the table and then we will go for a beer after. That’s when you know that you are really a good friend and there are plenty of people on the tour that I can do that with and anyone that I couldn’t do that with, they are not a proper friend at the end of the day.
— Mark Allen (@pistol147) March 15, 2014
PSB: I guess it’s like with you posting pictures with Murphy after the Haikou match…
MA: Yeah that’s the way it should be. I was gutted, losing the title and the way it happened too going in-off, it wasn’t a great way to lose, but at the end of the day it is a snooker match. I had fun out there, it just didn’t go my way on that day and it’s not Shaun’s fault. We had dinner the night before, we had dinner after we left. That’s the way it should be.
I remember Hendry saying that he didn’t like friends and all that and each to their own, but myself and Shaun are great friends off the table but during that match on the table we both wanted to beat the other person, we are not going to try any harder or go any easier no matter who it is. You go out there and you want to try and win and then be friends afterwards.
I do struggle a little bit with people that I practice with to be honest and it’s part of the reason why I don’t really travel a lot to practice. I have always struggled when I have played Swail or Fergal, people like that. I do struggle then when I go and play them in tournaments. I know it hasn’t happened too often but it is a strange approach for me so if I went around and started practising with lots of different players then I’d be too worried that might happen again and then there would be too many people, so I am quite happy being in Northern Ireland and practising with Joe or Fergal and I know that every now and again we are going to come across each other and we are just going to have to deal with it.
PSB: So do you do a lot of solo practice then or just with those two?
MA: Yeah I do a lot on my own and then I’m quite lucky that Fergal will always come up and play me once or twice a week and then I have got Joe maybe once or twice a week if he’s not in Manchester.
I’ve got a couple of guys in the club that I am from who are pretty good amateurs, one who has been on the tour before Jordan Brown, he plays in my club. Raymond Fry, he’s number one in the country at the moment in the amateur game so I’ve got plenty of good practice about.
People might look at it that I could travel and play other top professionals but it has never really been for me for the reasons that I have mentioned and I am happy enough working on things. I know I am going to have plenty of games against Joe and Fergal and that will be enough to keep me going.
PSB: And off the table, I know you like your golf, football…probably the less said the better about [Manchester] United the other day but what do you make to the signings? Big names but not necessarily for the right positions?
MA: Yeah it was a strange transfer window really, lots of excitement in terms of goals with the likes of Di Maria and Falcao, but I think where United really needed to strengthen was in the defence. I know they have brought a few in like your man Rojo, Luke Shaw and Daley Blind, but I think Blind is more of a holding centre-midfielder rather than an out and out defender and I am not really 100% sure of Phil Jones at centre-back, I don’t really know how that will work, I don’t think he is quite strong enough for that position. I think whenever Rafael comes back and Shaw is going to play left-wing, I think it will be a bit stronger but as long as Jones is that main man in the centre I am never going to be sure that it is quite strong enough and United are getting found out a bit at the minute.
PSB: And on the golf front you had that charity event for MacMillian Cancer Support, how did that go?
MA: It was tough, I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was. 72 holes in on day, we teed off at 5am and finished at 9:50pm at night. It was pretty tough, we had a ten minute break after one round, 15 minutes after another round and the other two rounds we just had to continue straight to the first tee.
It was tough but obviously we raised £7,300 and we were only really fund raising for three weeks so it was all for a great cause and for us to be able to do it just shows that it’s worth it. We had fun out there too, we had a couple of drinks on the course and had a good laugh. There were plenty of birdies made and it was good. I think I had nine birdies myself in the four rounds and my mate made 11 which was pretty good.
PSB: And finally what are your other interests, obviously to pass the time on the planes to China and so on?
MA: Plenty of DVDs and Big Bang Theory at the minute is probably my favourite and my old favourite 24. And then just loads of movies, I always watch the same movies that I have probably watched 50-100 times each. It’s just probably habit more than anything else.
PSB: And at home?
MA: I think if you ask my wife she would say that I am hardly ever at home! I practice hard, I have been practising flat out. If I am down in the morning and not playing anyone I always have a game arranged for the evening, if I am playing someone in the day I will always go and do a couple of hours on my own at night anyway so probably at the minute I am probably doing close to seven hours a day and I haven’t really done that since I was 16, 17. I feel like it is starting to pay off and hopefully it will pay off in one or two of the big events soon.
Thanks to Mark for his time and best of luck to him tomorrow in the final of this week’s Shanghai Masters and for the rest of the season beyond.