Allen lines up title joy ahead of Belfast bid
Mark Allen is totally focused on tonight's big showdown with Judd Trump - but he could be forgiven if his mind strays at some point during the match to next week's Northern Ireland Open in Belfast.
Allen will be the homecoming hero at the Waterfront Hall, carrying the hopes of the Northern Ireland sporting public, who are still coming to terms with international football boss Michael O'Neill's departure to Stoke City.
The snooker fans will do their best to turn the Waterfront into a mini Windsor Park during Allen's matches in the £405,000 showpiece.
And Allen would love nothing more than to be arriving in Belfast as the Champion of Champions.
To do that he must get past world champion and global No.1 Judd Trump at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry in tonight's semi-final ahead of tomorrow's decider, worth £150,000 to the winner.
The Antrim cueman said: "If I am going to go on and win the tournament it would be nice to beat the world champion and World No.1 on the way."
The 33-year-old will start his Northern Ireland Open campaign on Tuesday afternoon against the World No.63 Sam Craigie.
The World No.7 will start as hot favourite to win that one, while his stepson, 15-year-old Robbie McGuigan, has been awarded a wildcard into the event and will tackle fellow Ulsterman Patrick Wallace in a preliminary round on Monday night.
Other local interest will be provided by Allen's practice partner Jordan Brown and local amateur Declan Lavery.
Brown takes on veteran James Wattana while Lavery has a plum tie against Stephen Maguire. Northern Ireland international Gerard Greene will also be in action against Marco Fu.
Trump, though, is the man of the moment - he won last week's World Open in Yushan in China - and comes to Belfast as the defending champion.
Looking ahead to his clash with Allen tonight, he said: "I have a lot of confidence from the win in Yushan and I am bringing that into this event.
"I saw a little bit of Mark Allen's (last) match (group final win over Mark Selby). He is an attacking player, I think the table will suit him because it is very, very fast out there and with his cue action that will suit him.
"It will be a tough semi-final and I'll have to improve my game from how I played."
Trump beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 9-7 in last year's NI Open final and the Rocket blasts into action on Tuesday night.
Selby is the only player still in contention for the £1m Home Nations bonus having won last month's English Open.
◊ THE tournament runs from Monday to Sunday at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast and tickets are available at waterfront.co.uk