IF in the end ‘The Pistol’ did not have the firepower to finish ‘The Rocket’ in Sunday’s UK Championship final, Antrim’s Mark Allen has at least proven that he is a handful for anyone on the circuit - even a master like Ronnie O’Sullivan who was out to make history by winning the title for a record-breaking seventh time.

Make no mistake, Allen has certainly grown in stature in what is surely his breakthrough year since turning pro.

The 32-year-old has already won the Masters and International Championship in 2018, and he always looked dangerous at the Barbican this week - even though he felt some of the tables were simply not up to scratch.

It certainly did not show when he dismantled two former world champions along the way!

He dismissed Stephen Maguire 6-1 to set up a semi-final showdown against Stuart Bingham.

In that game he came back from 4-2 down to win 6-5 thanks to two well-timed century breaks.

But the final was always going to be a whole new ball game for the Antrim man.

He was up against Ronnie O’Sullivan who has won the event at York three times since 2014 - even though he did not compete in 2015.

Incredibly, he had won 27 of his 28 matches at the venue in the last four years, his one blemish a loss to Mark Selby in the 2016 final.

And he was more focused than ever, because he too had a score to settle.

Victory would given him a useful £170,000 but it would also see him surpass Stephen Hendry’s record in Triple Crown events - cementing his status as one of the games true greats.

And he certainly played like a man with one eye on the history books as Sunday’s final got underway.

Mark never really put a foot wrong, but O’Sullivan showed his class to race into a commanding lead - winning five frames on the bounce in the best of 19 showdown.

But against all the odds Allen refused to make it easy for him, mounting a spirited comeback - even coming tantalisingly close to pocketing a 147.

In the end, with the scores sitting at 9-6 O’Sullivan found that extra gear and crossed the line with a 78 break.

Speaking afterwards, the Antrim man said he could have no complaints about the result. The £75,000 runner-up cheque was a useful Christmas bonus too!

“Ronnie played awesome, particularly in the first session,” he said.

“I did not feel like I did that much wrong. I got punished and fell 6-2 behind and his long game was devastating. So was his safety.

“It’s up to me to go away, practice and try to get closer to Ronnie’s level. He is by far and away ahead of everyone else.

“I still fancied it at 9-6, even though you are relying on him to make mistakes. I was never giving up.

“I hate losing and I will never be happy with second but there are lots to be positive about.”

And, of course, there is more to life than snooker. In one post match interview he was carrying daughter Harleigh, and he said he always gave him perspective.

“Look at how happy she is and she doesn’t even know that I have lost,” he said.

“She makes losing that little bit easier. As much as snooker is very important to me, my family is more important.

“If I win or lose, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t get me wrong, when I’m out there I will do absolutely everything I can to try and win, but this is what is important right here.”

Next up for Mark is the defence of his Masters crown. The campaign begins with a first round match against Luca Brecel on January 13 at Alexandra Palace.

“I feel my game is in good shape at the minute and I’m confident I can compete for every tournament I play in.

“I feel like I’ve got many more wins in me. It would be the ultimate to defend the Masters title.”

Cheering him on will be Antrim Town Councillor Neil Kelly, who admits that he was ‘glued’ to last weekend’s televised final.

“I would like to congratulate Antrim’s own Mark Allen on a fantastic UK Snooker Championship,” he said.

“Mark won a hard semi final that had me glued to the TV on Saturday night but Ronnie ‘The Rocket’ O’Sullivan proved a bridge too far.

“Mark held his own in the early stages of the final going 2-1 up but Ronnie showed his pedigree by winning 5 in a row to go into the interval 6-2 up.

“Mark fought hard right to the end but O’Sullivan made some great long pots to create the opportunity to win by 10 frames to six.

“It’s been a great season for Mark Allen and I was fortunate enough to be at the Antrim Forum in March when Antrim Town gave Mark a champions welcome after his victory in the Masters.

“The Pistol repaid the hospitality by putting on a top show with a 147 maximum break in the opening frame.

“Mark is a great Ambassador for Antrim Town and I hope he continues to go from strength to strength and wish him every success in 2019.”

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