Golf star Rory McIlroy is backing his fellow Northern Irishman Mark Allen to build on his thrilling opening win at the Betfred.com World Championship.
Allen came from 9-6 behind to beat Matthew Stevens 10-9 on an emotional night at the Crucible, clinching victory as his four-year-old daughter Lauren watched on from the front row.
He is battling depression and had “no interest whatsoever” in snooker during the past couple of months while he attempted to deal with his off-table problems.
But former semi-finalist Allen was full of cheer last night after knocking out Welshman Stevens, and was delighted to learn McIlroy was following his match.
McIlroy, 21, remarked on Twitter in the early stages of the evening session that he was watching Allen in action on television.
Allen replied after the dramatic conclusion: “Cheers for your support Rors. Cheering you on everytime you tee it up!!! Nice of you to do the same for me. Cheers mate.”
McIlroy, who went close to winning the Masters earlier this month before a dramatic slump on his final nine holes, responded to Allen, saying: “No worries mate! Great win last night! Keep it going!”
“Thanks mate, will try my best,” Allen wrote back.
Allen celebrated with friends and family after his first-round success, which came about thanks to a switch in tactics.
He elected to be more attacking, almost gung-ho, and the approach paid off as Stevens’ lead crumbled.
Twenty-five-year-old Allen is hoping his life can improve on a professional and personal basis, but warns he should be considered a long shot for the title in Sheffield.
“The last few months have been hard on and off the table,” he said.
“My private life hasn’t been great but I’m fighting to get that better.
“I know when I get that better my snooker will improve as well.
“It’s a bit of a bonus to be in the second round.
“But I’m in the second round and I can improve now.
“It’s amazing what a win can do.
“Since the German Masters (in February) I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve lifted my cue.
“I’ve had no interest in snooker whatsoever.
“Everything was getting me down.
“Snooker was the last thing on my mind.
“Coming here I didn’t feel much pressure leading up to it.
“I had no expectation levels coming in so every round I do get through it’s a bonus.”
Allen is frequently reminded he has never reached the final of a ranking event, although he has been to five semi-finals.
He knocked out Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2009 at the Crucible before John Higgins blocked off his route to the title match, and he would naturally love to go one step further.
However the exciting left-hander from Antrim dampened down expectations of a sustained World Championship bid this year.
“I’ve had good results in the past, but I’ve lost in quite a few semi-finals apparently, it’s up to me to get by that hurdle,” Allen said.
“I can’t really see it happening here to be honest but if I keep getting free you just never know.”