Mark Allen claims snooker faces a long and difficult battle to win back shell-shocked fans after the double blow of Stephen Hendry’s retirement and Ronnie O’Sullivan’s decision to put his career on hold.
Allen, last year’s williamhill.com UK Championship runner-up, returns to the York Barbican Centre this weekend looking to go one step further in the tournament by landing the biggest title of his career to date.
The sparky Northern Irishman and the flamboyant new world number one Judd Trump, who beat Allen in a thrilling final 12 months ago, are prime candidates to fashion snooker’s next great rivalry.
However 26-year-old Allen has warned he and Trump have no intention of being burdened by any added pressure to perform, and suggests the sport is now in a slow recovery mode rather than a period of growth.
Allen regrets the exit of seven-time world champion Hendry more than he does the absence of crowd favourite O’Sullivan, but understands why the latter’s decision to take a hiatus from his sporting career has been particularly damaging.
“I think Stephen’s a bigger miss to the game than Ronnie, but from the financial side Ronnie is the big draw and I think the tournaments have suffered because of that,” Allen said.
“The crowds haven’t been the same and there hasn’t really been that same buzz around the tournaments and it’s going to be a bit of time before it can recover.