2022 Northern Ireland Open Qualifiers – Day 6 and thoughts from the defending Champion

Yesterday was the last day of the 2022 Northern Ireland Open qualifiers and here is the (short) report by WST:

Un-Nooh Books Belfast Spot

Thepchaiya Un-Nooh continued his return to form with a 4-1 victory over Chris Wakelin to reach the final stages of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open.

Thailand’s Un-Nooh narrowly avoided relegation from the pro circuit at the end of last season; only a run to the last 32 of the World Championship kept him on the tour. He is now looking to climb back up the rankings and with today’s result he can look forward to a trip to Belfast in October. Breaks of 66, 85 and 51 helped him to a comfortable win over Wakelin.

Jackson Page fired runs of 59, 51 and 107 as he saw off Robbie Williams 4-2 , while Martin Gould cruised to a 4-0 whitewash against Michael Judge. Sean O’Sullivan, returning to the tour this season after a three-year absence, top scored with 60 in a 4-1 win over Jamie O’Neill.

Here are the other results:

Tian Pengfei defeated Ian Burns by 4-0. Ian scored on 69 points all match, Tian finished with breaks of 61 and 78.

David Grace beat Lei Peifan by 4-2 in a match that featured a break over 50 in every frame expect the last.

Hammad Miah beat James Cahill by 4-2; he had a 53 in frame 1, and a 61 in frame 6.

Mark Allen is the defending champion but he will need to wait another month and a half before actually starting his title defence. He’s far from impressed with the current calendar structure and content:

‘People are not happy’ – Mark Allen voices growing concerns over World Snooker Tour calendar

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Four
Mark Allen feels the frustration of a number of players on the snooker tour (Picture: Getty Images)

Mark Allen feels there are growing concerns among professional players over the gaps on the snooker calendar, as the World Snooker Tour struggles to return to its pre-Covid schedule.

World Snooker Tour did brilliantly to continue putting on events during 2020 and ’21, but they have not yet been able to restore the calendar to the state it was in before Covid hit.

This is largely down to China previously hosting a string of big-money tournaments and it still being impossible to travel to the country to play as Covid restrictions remain in place.

That is accepted and no blame is attached to anyone for that, but Allen says he and other players are concerned about how long China will remain off the table and what is being done to fill the void it has left.

‘Unless they start coming up with some new events, bigger prize money, then I’ll always be sceptical,’ Allen told Metro.co.uk. ‘It seems that they’re papering over cracks at the minute.

‘The Championship League is on for a month, but you’re only playing for a couple of those days and the money isn’t great unless you win it.

‘We appreciate how hard it has been through Covid, but it seems that this season in particular has been a massive step back. The past two seasons felt busier.

‘China’s obviously being very strict, so that’s not World Snooker’s fault, we can accept that. But how long do we wait? If they shut the country down at every new variant, how long do we wait?

‘We need to find new venues, new countries, new tournaments. It would be great if we could get some extra events and then China can come knocking and say they’re ready. The calendar would be full again and that’s what everyone wants.’

There have been new tournaments added to the calendar this year, but both the Hong Kong Masters and World Mixed Doubles only feature eight players, so the vast majority of the tour are not involved and that has caused more frustration.

The world number 14 explained: ‘Adding events in Hong Kong and the Mixed Doubles that make the calendar look busy, but there’s only eight players in those events.

‘They’re putting events on but they’re not keeping the tour happy. There’s a lot of rumblings behind the scenes and people are not happy.

‘It just seems that they’re papering over cracks. Even in the Home Nations, not 128 at the venue, streaming qualifiers, it’s not beneficial to players, just World Snooker.

‘Playing qualifiers with two tables, it makes the calendar look busy when it’s not really. I think they’re being quite clever with it but the players see through it. Just two tables, your guests there. It’s quite depressing times.

‘I didn’t qualify for the European Masters which is my fault, but from July to September I’ve got nothing because I didn’t qualify for that, it’s a long, long time to wait and not something we’ve become accustomed to under Barry [Hearn].’

Steve Dawson replaced Hearn as WST chairman last year and Allen admits there have been rumours that the former chairman stepped aside as he saw things going downhill for the tour.

The Northern Irishman does not believe that himself, but would like reassurances that things will improve in the near future.

‘Maybe some more communication with the guys on the tour would be good,’ he said. ‘We don’t hear much when it comes to new events and then you start thinking, “What’s going on here? Has Barry jumped ship at the right time?” That’s a bit of the talk amongst the players.

‘I can’t see that being true. Barry’s not that type of guy, and what I know of Steve I don’t think he’d accept that. But people are sceptical.’

An example of the lack of communication to the players is the scheduled Six Reds World Championship in Thailand, which is widely known to be cancelled, but remains on the calendar for 5-10 September.

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Three
Allen has played just the Championship League and European Masters since the World Championship (Picture: Getty Images)

Allen says the confusion is frustrating, as he explained: ‘I saw an email from the organiser to a player saying the event was off.

‘I contacted someone on the Players’ Board asking why we haven’t been told. He said we’d hear something. The players got an email not even saying it was off, just not to book anything because they were still working on it.

‘But I’ve seen it in black and white from the promoter that the event was off, he’d refunded the flight money. Silly things like that are frustrating.’

WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson has been working hard on keeping the calendar going and trying to restore it to former glories throughout the pandemic and he sympathises with Allen’s view, but assures him that things will improve and they hope to return to China in the not too distant future.

‘I do know that there are gaps on the calendar at the moment, but it’s mainly due to post-Covid times and not being able to get back to China,’ Ferguson told Metro.co.uk.

‘We can’t just put events on top of events that might happen, so we need to leave a certain number of gaps on the calendar.

Evergrande 2017 World Snooker China Championship - Press Conference & Red Carpet
Jason Ferguson is working hard to get events added to the calendar (Picture: Getty Images)

‘I understand and share the players’ frustrations. They’re preparing for events and wanting to compete, because that’s what they do as sportspeople. But we have to ease out of this Covid environment carefully, and contractually carefully.

‘It will improve, there will be more events added, this calendar that is out is the worst case scenario. Players see a gap here and a gap there, actually they are not all gaps on our desk, it’s potential this and potential that.

‘I’m as frustrated as anybody because I’m working on this all the time, it would be a lot easier for me if it was full, believe me. Watch this space is all I can say on that one.’

Ferguson expanded on why the Hong Kong Masters and World Mixed Doubles have been put on with small fields, with the reasoning that they should lead to bigger and better things for more players.

Specifically in Hong Kong, the eight-player tournament is all that can be done now in Asia, but it will hopefully be the start of a return to mainland China, which would end many of the problems players are currently facing.

‘To put a major ranking event on is a massive thing,’ said Jason. ‘Take Hong Kong. It’s a small number of players which was agreed on by both sides very early on. We’ve been negotiating and trying to get an event on in Asia for quite some time.

‘We’re hoping that event will set the precedent and set the processes of how we can get back into mainland China with major ranking events. That’s what it’s there for.

‘It will be a great event, I’ve no doubt about it, and it benefits a small number of players, but it is there for all the players. Hong Kong could take a major ranking event in the future, so we’re really keen to get this on.

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Sixteen
Ronnie O’Sullivan will be heading to Hong Kong and playing in the World Mixed Doubles (Picture: Getty Images)

‘Flights in and out are limited, the amount of sportspeople allowed in and out are limited. We’ve had to design this event around the protocol which is available.

‘But we’re doing it for everybody, not just the few players that benefit this time. Players will look at it and be frustrated, but we’re fighting the good fight to get major events on for everybody.’

The World Mixed Doubles, which features the top four players on the world rankings and the women’s world rankings, is stemmed from a different motivation, but Ferguson says it is still beneficial to all in a wider sense.

‘The Mixed Doubles is interesting, it’s great to see snooker coming back onto ITV1,’ he said.

‘Snooker on ITV is part of a multi-event, multi-broadcast arrangement and we had the chance to bring something in over a weekend. It’s just a weekend.

‘Women’s sport is going so well, look how well the football went, there’s clearly demand. We’ve designed the systems to allow women to compete on the main World Snooker Tour, it’s time to showcase that now.

‘Let’s not forget, the better the sport looks, the more we showcase our great message, that benefits everybody on tour, the sport is more valuable.’

WST and the WPBSA are certainly trying to get the calendar back to its pre-2020 pomp and Ferguson says that any criticism is warranted if they cannot add more events to the schedule by the end of the current campaign.

‘If big gaps stay in the calendar between now and the end of the season, if we don’t fill them, then we deserve some stick,’ he said.

Jason Ferguson can say what he wants, Mark Allen certainly has a point. He has nothing to play in for the next 6 weeks… and he’s going to play some pool instead!

Mark Allen has also revealed that he’s working hard on getting fitter. He’s lost a lot of weight. It all started with a conversation with Ronnie after their match at the Crucible.

Mark Allen reveals Ronnie O’Sullivan chat has led to four stone weight loss

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Four
Mark Allen has been working hard on his fitness over the summer (Picture: Getty Images)

Mark Allen has lost almost four stone after a lot of hard work over the summer and plans to lose more weight as his dieting continues, which all stemmed from a chat with Ronnie O’Sullivan in Sheffield.

The Pistol has been on a strict diet since May and has seen excellent results, shedding a huge amount of weight and feeling much better for it.

The world number 14 wants to keep going in the same direction and is aiming to lose another two stone by the British Open next month.

While it was something he was aware he needed to do beforehand, it was a conversation with O’Sullivan after their World Championship match in April that helped kick Allen into action.

The Rocket beat the Pistol 13-4 in the second round in Sheffield, but far from just shaking hands and going their separate ways, they had a lengthy chat back at the hotel and it has helped Allen with his impressive weight loss over a long summer, which saw him take 11 weeks off playing snooker.

‘I had a good chat with O’Sullivan after we played in Sheffield,’ Allen told Metro.co.uk. ‘I sat in his hotel room for about an hour, talking about snooker and all sorts of things, he really helped me, it was good.

‘He gave me a few pointers. For my health more than anything just to lose some weight, if it helps your snooker so be it, but if it doesn’t it will help your mindset off the table, you’ll be better round your family, round your daughter and he was absolutely right.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is one of the fittest players in snooker, through running and a strict diet (Picture: Getty Images)

‘I feel like that has changed my priorities over the summer and maybe why I took such a long break.

‘Everything he said has stood me in good stead and I’ve been working hard on it, and hopefully it’ll reap rewards on the table as well.’

It may be something of a surprise that O’Sullivan and Allen were chatting away for 60 minutes in a hotel room after their memorable clash at the Champion of Champions in 2020.

The Northern Irishman says that is all forgotten though, heat of the battle stuff, and he was really appreciative of the advice the Rocket gave him in Sheffield.

‘I’m not going to say anything about that, because whenever I’m out there I’m fiery, I want to kill people on the table,’ Allen said of the heated exchange from a couple of years ago.

But whenever it’s said and done, you walk away and you’re professional sportspeople. You go through similar things that people don’t realise.

‘So I had a good chat with Ronnie, sat in his hotel room for about an hour after the match. It was really good, he really opened up and I told him things that were personal to me. It was good, I really appreciated it.

‘Obviously someone like Ronnie doesn’t have to give anyone the time of day, he’s a busy man, I really appreciated that.

‘I wished him the best for the rest of the event, and I really took on board what he gave me.’

Allen explained that it has mainly been cutting down on food that has helped the pounds disappear and staying disciplined is no easy task.

‘Just really, really watching what I’m eating,’ he said. ‘Cut down portions, just really retraining my brain, get in a different mindset and hardly eating anything.

‘It’s coming up on four stone I’ve lost, so we’re going in the right direction, but I’d love to get another couple of stone off before the British Open, that would be great.

‘I’ve been trying hard, it’s been tough, a lot harder than I thought it would be but it’s something I’ve been needing to do.’

Allen was disappointed that he never really gave O’Sullivan a game in Sheffield (Picture: Getty Images)

The loss to O’Sullivan which produced the life-changing conversation for Allen was another disappointing result for the Pistol in South Yorkshire.

A run to the semi-finals in 2009 remains his best result at the Crucible and he has only been to one quarter-final in the last 11 years.

He expects much more of himself on the sport’s biggest stage and is hoping that getting into shape will help him fulfil his potential at the World Championship.

‘I expect to do well myself, you get one chance a year and unfortunately I haven’t done it yet,’ he said.

‘I have aspirations of doing it, I know I’ve got the game, I’ve beat every player in the game over a decent length of format, so Sheffield shouldn’t be any different.

‘I think losing weight and being mentally fitter should help me in the long run, I think that’s something that’s been against me in the past.

‘You look at the ones that have done well in Sheffield consistently, none of them are overweight or have the issues I have. That’s something I have to work on and I have been working on lately.’

2 thoughts on “2022 Northern Ireland Open Qualifiers – Day 6 and thoughts from the defending Champion

  1. I saw some of David Grace’s win over Lei Peifan. Both players showed some good skills, but also some catastrophic misses. People have said that Lei has a good future, but he needs wins to stay on tour. Yesterday was an opportunity.

    As for Mark Allen, yes there are scheduling issues. WST/Matchroom do seem to be favouring the Mixed Doubles and Hong Kong Masters, which feature a small number of top players. I also wonder if the availability of Pool events is more than just a coincidence. If there is a hidden agenda for 9-ball Pool to ultimately take the place of snooker (e.g. after Ronnie O’Sullivan retires) as a more lucrative Q-sport, then it’s something we need to discuss.

    • I already had the same thoughts last year when there was a lot of “noise” around Judd Trump participation in the US Pool event. Matchroom seems to be much more active/pro-active in the promotion of pool. Emily Frazer is very dynamic and she’s the one in charge of pool. Eddie Hearn is only interested in boxing. If I’m honest, I have a bad feeling about it all.

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