Mark Allen roars past Neil Robertson to reach Northern Ireland Open final
Home favourite Mark Allen will play Zhou Yuelong in the Northern Ireland Open final following a 6-2 victory over Neil Robertson in Belfast on Saturday.
Reigning champion Allen delighted the Waterfront Hall crowd with two century breaks on the way to booking his place in Sunday’s showpiece.
The Pistol subsequently ended the hopes of the Australian, who was aiming to become the first player to win all four events in the Home Nations series.
Allen had lost all four of his previous semi-final showdowns with Robertson, but back-to-back centuries of 100 and 136 helped him surge into a 4-1 lead.
The Thunder, who had won each of his four matches at this stage of a Home Nations event, hit back with 68 and looked on course to reduce the deficit to 4-3, but a missed pink with the rest on 37 allowed his opponent to move to the brink of victory with a run of 60.
World number 10 Allen then neatly cleared the colours in the following frame to force a re-spotted black, which he would impressively sink to send the crowd into raptures.
“I didn’t feel like I played my best stuff, but I did good things at the right times,” he told Eurosport. “Obviously, I scrapped my way to being 2-1 in front and then found a bit of form and made two centuries for 4-1.
“Then when Neil was starting to come back at me and it looked like it was going to be 4-3, I made a really good 60 when the balls were awkward to go 5-2.
“From 5-2, you just have to play sensible snooker and not miss anything easy. You know you’re going to get a chance to get over the line, and to do it on a re-spot in front of the crazy fans here in Belfast was really nice.”
Allen revealed he has recently started working with sports psychologist Paul Gaffney, who is renowned for his work with Ireland’s athletes prior to the past two editions of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as several GAA teams.
And the Pistol, who was runner-up to Ryan Day at the British Open earlier this month, feels he is reaping the benefits of the partnership as he aims to complete a successful title defence.
“Through a mutual friend, I got in touch with [Paul] over the summer and we’ve been working together since then,” Allen explained. “We chat at least every other day, and he’s really got me in a good place.
“I don’t feel like I’ve played my best stuff this week, but what I have had is a very good attitude. Balls I’ve missed, I’ve forgotten about straightaway, and I’ve just looked forward to my next visit – no matter what the score is or who I’m playing.
“It hasn’t been a bad defence so far; I’m still here and still fighting. But ultimately, I’d be very disappointed if I didn’t go on and win the tournament. It would be great to keep the trophy here in Northern Ireland.”
Standing in his way is Zhou after the world number 23 hit four centuries during a 6-4 win over Anthony McGill.
The former World Cup champion made breaks of 100 and 132 as he edged his nose ahead in a tightly contested affair at 3-2.
However, he broke down on 62 in the following frame; enabling two-time ranking event winner McGill to produce a stunning 73 counter clearance to level, before taking the lead with a marvellous 101.
But Zhou was not to be denied as he secured a third ranking final appearance, back-to-back centuries of 127 and 110 sealing the deal.