Mark Allen's best ever chance to conquer the World
Mark Allen is in a good place as he bids to finally make the big breakthrough in the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible.
Allen goes into the tournament after victory in the Players Championship in Manchester three weeks ago - his first ever ranking success in the UK following two triumphs in China.
That propelled the Antrim cueman up to number seven in the world rankings and what appears a kind World Championship draw has opened the door to a good run - and more - in the £1.5million snooker showpiece.
"I expect to win it if I play well. Everyone wants to be world champion and it's still something I have my eye on," said Allen, who will take on world number 74 - and Crucible debutant - Mitchell Mann in the first round over the best of 19 frames.
"I have beaten everyone the game has to offer so I have nothing to fear," added Allen.
"The biggest problem for me is controlling my own performance.
"The last few years I have played okay (at the Crucible) but I haven't played at my best.
"If I bring my 'A' game I am a match for anyone."
The action starts today, with the first session of Allen's match on Tuesday and the conclusion on Wednesday.
Allen said: "These are exciting times, I am going into the tournament on the back of a good win and that gives me confidence.
"Any big win is good for the confidence and even better for the bank balance," said Allen, who collected a cool £100,000 for his 10-6 victory over Ricky Walden.
"My form has been half decent without being spectacular and getting a good win like that when I wasn't at my best is another feather in my cap.
"But I will need to put everything right in Sheffield - you can't go there with your 'B' game and expect to compete against the best players in the world over the longer distance."
The 30-year-old has worked harder than ever before to get his game into the best possible shape for Sheffield.
"I will have to go there and play well and that's why I'm putting the hard graft in," he said. "The last few years I have been back working a lot harder than I was.
"For a while I had lost interest in the game and wasn't putting enough effort in and my results showed that.
"The last few years have been very, very different - I have been practising very, very hard. I have been working very hard since I won the tournament, I have had work done on my cue, I am very comfortable with that, and I've been putting lots and lots of hours in, a lot of repetition, just getting ready."
The former Belfast Telegraph Young Sports Star of the Year is Ulster's finest player since the golden era of Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins and Dennis Taylor.
Higgins won the world title in 1972 and 1982 before Taylor followed up with his iconic black ball victory over Steve Davis in 1985. Joe Swail kept the home flag flying before Allen established himself as a fixture in the elite world top 16 over the last decade following on from his triumph in the World Amateur Championship in 2004. A Crucible semi-final in 2009 and victories in the World Open in China in 2012 and 2013 hinted that Allen may be about to reach the game's summit, and last month's Players Championship success places him among the front runners in Sheffield.
Allen has had a well publicised battle with depression.
He recalled: "I remember one of my friends that I had spoken to about it and he was the one that I had cancelled on a number of times and obviously it sort of registered to him as to why.
"Then a few times when we made plans after that, when I was in recovery so to speak, I would not answer my phone and kept my front door locked," he said.
"At one stage he put two big bins against the wall on top of each other outside my house and tried to get into my bathroom window, just to try and get me to play golf.
"It was quite funny because he tried to get in the window and he couldn't get in and the bins fell, so he ended up hanging from my bathroom window upstairs, so I had to help him."
The Ulsterman has a nine-year-old daughter - Lauren - from a previous relationship with women's world champion Reanne Evans.
He has been happily married to Kyla since May 2013.
Life is good for Mark Allen. And it could be about to get even better.