Monday, 15 October 2012

Mark Allen on... playing the game

Mark Allen is one of snooker's brightest characters.

He is a wonderfully talented, exciting and attacking player who loves to put on a show. But that's only half the story.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Northern Ireland's top potter isn't afraid of sharing his opinions, however controversial, and it often lands him in trouble.

He spoke exclusively to OnCue to put the record straight on a few things and tell us more about the man behind the media portrayal.

In the first of a four-part interview, Allen talks us through his rise to stardom, why he plays the game the way he does and where he feels his game is now...

It seems a long time ago since I broke onto the professional circuit in 2005 but it was such an exciting time.

I had lots of confidence when I first broke through, which was fuelled by my good amateur record. I won a number of major tournaments including the Northern Ireland and European Championship in 2004, as well as the World Amateur Championship and World under-19 titles in 2005. I arrived onto the circuit off the back of a lot of good results.

At first, a lot of the players I was facing in the early rounds of the qualifiers were people I'd played before, so I knew I had nothing to be scared of. I just needed to trust my ability.

I always knew I was ready for the step up. I felt as if I'd served my apprenticeship. I'd already missed out on turning professional a few times. I finished 17th on the Challenge Tour when it was the top 16 who qualified, then I finished 27th when it was the top 25 and I also lost in a couple of finals where the winner earned a place on the circuit.

This was pretty difficult but, once I did get there, it felt like I really deserved my place. Because of this, I was determined to make the most of it and not be like a fish out of water.

I was a bit nervous in my first event but I knuckled down and tried to enjoy it. I got a lot of good wins in my first year and just went from there. Within three years I had broken into the top 16 and was the talk of the tour.

I'm pleased with that record and the biggest piece of advice I could give a new professional looking to have a quick impact on the tour is to enjoy it. I've struggled on the table over the last couple of years. I haven't always been happy playing like I was when I first turned professional. I'm starting to get that hunger back now and it's the best way to play.

The key is not to put too much pressure on yourself. Snooker is a very hard game and there are a lot of good players around, so you have to give it your best to stand any chance.

The rankings are changing again but I think, if you're good enough, you'll get up there.

My initial rise was rapid but I'm not sure I've really pushed on as much as I would have liked.

Maybe a lack of practice and a lack of motivation has cost me a little. I hold my hands up that I'm not the hardest worker in the world. I accept that I'm going to struggle for a bit of consistency here and there but I know that if I play well I'm more than capable of winning tournaments.

I've always gone for my shots growing up. I'm trying to play for my livelihood but I want to enjoy the game and try to remember that people are paying money to watch, so I have to put on a show.

It's not all about winning in my eyes. If I can put a smile on someone's face and make someone go home happy then I will try because that's part of my job as a professional snooker player. We're in the entertainment business here.

I've tried changing my game against slower players by slowing down myself but it only wrecks my own head. Now, I play my own game regardless of who I'm against or what is at stake.

I'll always be an attacking player but I think my game has matured. My shot selection has improved a lot. I've learnt to be attacking at the right times and I understand that playing a good safety isn't necessarily being negative. It's just a way of trying to create a better chance for yourself.

I've been struggling a bit so far this season but I'm cueing a bit better of late. I've been putting some work in with my coach Terry Griffiths and it seems to be paying off, but obviously it doesn't happen overnight. I feel like I'm getting better and I should be more than ready for the International Championship.

I start every campaign slowly. I'm the first to admit that I didn't really practice much over the summer. I like to take a good break after the World Championship. I usually come back a bit rusty. I've probably practiced as much or if not even more than I ever have this season but it hasn't made much difference, as it shows in my results and performances. I've been lucky enough to win my first round matches in most tournaments though.

People always ask me what it's like to work with Terry. I focus a lot on the mental side of the game with him. He rang me a few weeks ago to say we needed to get together and that was probably the first time in seven years that he's ever done that. It was a bit of a shock for me but was probably what I needed. I'd fallen into a few bad habits over the summer while I wasn't playing and I'm working hard to iron them out at the moment.

I've got a good relationship with Terry. I first met him when I was 14-years-old and he's been great ever since. He's a good person to have in your corner because he knows what to say and he knows when to say it.

He's always there and always knows what's going on but he gives me plenty of freedom as well. He would never impose but says what needs to be said. I'd be lost without Terry. He was a massive factor with me moving to the On Q Promotions. Terry moved across and I did the same because I felt our relationship was very important for my future.

I'm really happy in life at the moment. I'm engaged and due to be married to my fiance Kyla around May next year. I'm hoping to use it as a positive on the table.

Here's to hoping for a strong end to the season.

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