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Stephen Hendry tells 'Pistol' Mark Allen to keep on firing

By Steven Beacom

Snooker great Stephen Hendry has told Mark Allen to carry on speaking his mind.

The advice from arguably the greatest player to pick up a cue comes ahead of the Antrim ace's attempts to become a world champion at the Crucible Theatre.

Earlier this week, Allen told the Belfast Telegraph that he plans to keep shooting from the lip and Hendry is glad to hear it, suggesting that too many of today's sports stars talk in tired cliches.

Allen could never be accused of that. The Ulsterman has caused a stir in recent years with his thoughts on the state of the game, its schedule, prize money and snooker chief Barry Hearn.

He has also hit out at conditions for tournaments in China and questioned the sportsmanship of that nation's players.

Who knows what Northern Ireland's top player will come up with at Sheffield, where he starts his challenge against Mark King on Monday, hoping to emulate the feats of fellow countrymen Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor and become champion of the world.

On Allen's controversial opinions, Hendry says: "In lots of sports these days too many stick to cliches and their comments can be very boring, but you know with Mark if he is not happy about something, he's going to say it and that's the right way to be."

The Scot knows better than anyone what it takes to win a world title, having achieved the feat a record SEVEN times (1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999).

He believes Allen has what it takes to win the biggest and best tournament of them all, but warns that if Ronnie O'Sullivan, who is back after a self enforced break to defend his title, hits form he will be hard to stop.

"I think Mark Allen is a genuine contender for the World Championships," says Hendry, now 44.

"I watched him in a game against John Higgins in China a while back and there were four frames in a row when John didn't pot a ball because Mark was in such good form.

"You don't see that too often with John Higgins so that shows you what Mark is capable of.

"Having announced his comeback for the world championships I'd say Ronnie O'Sullivan is a dark horse because you don't know what you will get, but if he plays to his potential he will be the man to beat.

"Take Ronnie out of the equation and there are seven or eight players playing at a high standard and a similar standard to each other making it really hard to pick a winner. Mark Allen is one of those players."

Hendry adds that to win the World championship this year, players will have to deliver more than ever.

"What is stronger than it has ever been in snooker is how good the players are lower down the rankings," stated the Edinburgh man, who has complied more century breaks in tournaments than any other player.

"I think the top players certainly aren't playing any better than I was playing in the 90s but there are more players performing at a high standard.

"Also unlike maybe in the past, when you get to the world championships, you aren't guaranteed a couple of easier rounds. The qualifiers coming through now make it tough for the top players from round one."

Hendry is no longer one of those players.

He retired last year following his exit at the quarter-final stage of the World Championships, after hitting a maximum 147 in the first round and hammering compatriot John Higgins in the second.

Hendry will be at the Crucible this year as a commentator – he's earning quite the reputation for his words after all those great deeds – but if you want to see one of Scotland's finest sporting figures in action he'll be playing at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast at a Legends event on June 4.

Hendry will be joined by Jimmy White, Ken Doherty and none other than Rocket Ronnie O'Sullivan himself in what promises to be an entertaining evening.

"I'm looking forward to coming over to play at the Waterfront.

"I've played there before at exhibitions and when they had a competition there and it's a good venue," said Stephen.

"These Legends nights normally have some top names and this is certainly no different. I don't think the people of Belfast could wish for a more high profile line up."

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