Northern Ireland stars in the frame for World Snooker Championship
Mark Allen will face Ronnie O’Sullivan in the second round of the World Championship if both players win their first round matches — but the Antrim cueman accepts it won’t be his potential showdown with the World champion that people will focus on.
The £1million World Championship starts at the famous Crucible Theatre in Sheffield tomorrow and the match everyone is talking about is the first round clash between world number two Stephen Maguire and fellow Scot Jamie Burnett.
Maguire beat practice partner Burnett 9-3 in the UK Championship last December — with bookmakers having stopped taking bets on the 9-3 scoreline the day before the match due to unusual betting patterns.
With the score at 8-3 Burnett missed what appeared to be a relatively straightforward final black to make it 8-4.
Official and Gambling Commission investigations are still ongoing, although both players strongly deny any wrongdoing.
Allen, one of three Northern Ireland players in the first round, is confident both players gave their all in the match.
“Every player is capable of having a bad day. I know I’ve had bad days,” he said.
“Sometimes the harder you are trying, the worse it becomes. You can really get down on yourself. I think all the talk before the previous match heightened the pressure even more.
“I know Stephen and I know Jamie and I couldn’t see either of them being involved in anything. If anything comes out of it all I would be surprised, as I’m sure would a lot of the other players.
“It’s a case of innocent until proven guilty. I don’t think there has been any wrongdoing.
“There will be a lot of coverage of that first round match for all the wrong reasons,” added Allen who, if he can defeat Martin Gould — starting on Sunday morning, finishing Monday morning — will face ‘The Rocket’.
“If I can beat Martin Gould that will be my place in the world’s top 16 secured for next season — but I am going to the Crucible to win the tournament,” said the 23-year-old.
“I would love to play Ronnie on what is snooker’s biggest stage.
“As a snooker player it’s the sort of match you dream about. Ronnie would be a big favourite against me but favourites don’t always win and this could be one of those occasions.”
And Allen laughed off comments by the enigmatic O’Sullivan that snooker should bring in Simon Cowell to revamp the game.
He said: “Sometimes Ronnie needs to keep quiet for a change because the people running snooker are doing their best and taking the game in the right direction. When the top player is making remarks like that it doesn’t help.
“The game seems to revolve around Ronnie sometimes. That can’t be a good thing.”
Second round draw
Ronnie O'Sullivan (Eng) v Stuart Bingham (Eng), Mark Allen (NI) v Martin Gould (Eng), Peter Ebdon (Eng) v Nigel Bond (Eng), Ryan Day (Wal) v Stephen Lee (Eng), John Higgins (Sco) v Michael Holt (Eng), Joe Perry (Eng) v Jamie Cope (Eng), Graeme Dott (Sco) v Barry Hawkins (Eng), Mark Selby (Eng) v Ricky Walden (Eng), Shaun Murphy (Eng) v Andrew Higginson (Eng), Marco Fu (HK) v Joe Swail (NI), Ding Junhui (Chn) v Liang Wenbo (Chn), Stephen Hendry (Sco) v Mark Williams (Wal), Ali Carter (Eng) v Gerard Greene (NI), Neil Robertson (Aus) v Steve Davis (Eng), Mark King (Eng) v Rory McLeod (Eng), Stephen Maguire (Sco) v Jamie Burnett (Sco)