Mark Allen believes he is the greatest snooker player ever to come from Northern Ireland as he bids to retain his Masters title.
Allen became the first Northern Irishman to lift The Masters trophy since Dennis Taylor in 1987 when he defeated Kyren Wilson 10-7 in last year’s final.
The Ulsterman returns to Alexandra Palace bidding to repeat the feat and feels that, given his recent success, he deserves to be considered among the best ever players from his homeland.
“I don’t want to speak out of turn, but I feel like I am the best snooker player that has ever come from Northern Ireland, although perhaps not the best winner yet,” said Allen.
“Obviously Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor have won three world titles between them. In my mind, if I want to get in the conversation, I have to win the World Championship.
“If I do that, then perhaps I will deserve to be talked about in the same league as them.”
Since his emotional triumph 12 months ago, Allen has gone on to win the International Championship and Scottish Open titles.
A blistering end to 2018 also saw ‘The Pistol’ reach the final of the UK Championship – where he fell short to a record-breaking Ronnie O’Sullivan in York.
Allen believes he will cope with the challenge of defending the title when he returns to Ally Pally, starting with a curtain-raising clash against Luca Brecel on Sunday afternoon.
“I’ve got to deal with the tag of being defending champion and whenever I have had it before I have done reasonably well,” added Allen.
“I don’t see why it should be different this time just because it is the Masters. There is a lot of pressure with the Masters because it is an elite tournament, but I am looking forward to it.
“Everyone in the top 16 can play to a really high level. Ronnie O’Sullivan aside – because he is so talented – the difference is mental.
“They can all beat each other on any given day. Players like Mark Selby and Mark Williams do it more consistently because they are so strong mentally. The mind is so important in elite sport.”