Allen: Snooker will struggle
Mark Allen claims snooker faces a long and difficult battle to win back fans with Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan absent from the game.
Allen, last year's 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."
Although O'Sullivan only announced earlier this month that he was taking the rest of the season off, he had only played one competitive match, at a low-profile event in Gloucester, since winning his fourth world title at the Crucible in May.
This season is almost at its halfway stage, but with the UK Championship, the Masters and the World Championship ahead it is in the coming months that O'Sullivan's disappearance from the snooker map may be most sorely felt.
Players will be determined to ensure the sport does not suffer, and Allen said: "I think it's down to everyone. It's hard to single out myself or Judd.
"We just play. I don't think Judd goes out there to do anything different to what he would do in practice and it's the same for me.
"The crowds seem to enjoy watching me play. Snooker's in good hands but it's still going to take time for it to recover from there being no Ronnie or Hendry factor."
Hendry turned in his snooker stripes in May after a crushing quarter-final defeat to Stephen Maguire at the World Championship. While he plays the occasional exhibition and is set for a regular TV punditry role, that is the extent to which he will be involved, with no hint of an about-turn.
"Not a lot of people have talked about him not being at the events. I think Ronnie has helped in that," said Allen. "Stephen has got off lightly because he's a big, big miss to the game, and one that I personally miss a lot.
"He probably doesn't see me as a friend but I see him as a friend. He's given me a lot of good advice over the years and - he won't like me saying this - as a father figure. He's the person I've always looked up to in the game."
Allen is indebted to another veteran in Terry Griffiths, the 1979 world champion.
The 65-year-old Welshman is shadowing Allen on tour, serving as coach and chief motivator.
"He's of the old guard but in a snooker way he's as modern as they come," said Allen.
"What he knows about the game is probably second to none. He knows what to say to get me motivated, he knows what to say to calm me down and he knows what to say to give me a slap on the backside.
"After the World Championship I always take a complete break and play lots of golf, so for the first tournaments back I couldn't tell you which end of the cue to use.
"I found a few bad habits over the summer, probably because I was messing around in the bars playing pool. But I played only three shots in practice and he knew straightaway what I was doing wrong.
"Terry's someone I trust wholeheartedly and he's helped me a lot over the years. He's helped me a lot this season and I'm sure he'll help me a lot in the future."