Inevitably, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s exit from the Betfred.com World Championship has led to much handwringing as to whether the tournament is now over as a spectacle.
Well, I had a look in the Crucible arena yesterday and the tables are still up, which is a promising sign.
And for all the stick Stephen Maguire and Mark King got for their record breaking 75-minute frame yesterday, the snooker served up by John Higgins and Jamie Cope last night was sensational, and the drama by Neil Robertson and Ali Carter gripping.
The blunt truth is this: Ronnie, for all his pulling power, does not represent the future of snooker. At 33 he is, to use a golfing term, on the back nine of his career.
The likes of Allen, just 23, have the potential to still be top stars in a decade’s time.
“The established stars such as Hendry, O'Sullivan and Higgins have been great for the game but the new breed are announcing themselves and proving that the game is in a very healthy state,” a World Snooker spokesman told the Daily Mirror.
This is certainly true with the talent on the table. (Off the table is a different story – Allen could win the World Championship in the same year his home event, the Northern Ireland Trophy, is axed from the calendar).
The Mirror story predicts viewing figures will fall after O’Sullivan’s exit but, actually, the three world finals he has won attracted lower figures than the two Mark Williams won or Peter Ebdon’s deciding frame victory over Stephen Hendry in 2002.
Allen, like O’Sullivan himself, doesn’t demur from speaking his mind, something I think he should be congratulated on even if you don’t necessarily agree with what he says.
Here’s what he told the Sun and Express newspapers about O’Sullivan’s claim at the Masters that snooker is ‘dying':
“Sometimes he says things he doesn’t think about and they do more damage to the game than he thinks.
“I think Ronnie made a comment that he’s carrying the game on his shoulders and I don’t see it that way.
“And if Ronnie believes that, he should walk away. Maybe they do need to try new things to get the popularity back but you don’t want loads of people drinking and shouting like the darts. It’s a gentleman’s sport.
“There are more than enough players to take the mantle over from Ronnie. The game has never been in better health player-wise. In any sport there should never be one player who runs it and over the last few years it does seem Ronnie has.
“He seems to get away with things other players wouldn’t.”
Does Allen have a point?
Possibly. I certainly think it’s unhealthy to pin an entire sport’s hopes on the shoulders of one man, particularly when that man is a maverick who doesn’t enjoy playing ball with the authorities, who have never really known whether to apply the carrot or stick approach to punishing his transgressions.
But, he is easily the most popular player when it comes to attracting spectators and, by extension, sponsors and broadcasters.
Ronnie has brought many new fans to the game who otherwise may never have been interested in watching it.
Snooker fans won’t turn off because O’Sullivan has been beaten at the Crucible but the likes of Allen still have a long way to go before assuming his mantle and emulating his status.
But, of course, the Northern Irishman can begin that process if he lands the title a week today.