Mark Allen was still smiling on Wednesday night despite an agonising Masters final-frame defeat to Judd Trump at Alexandra Palace.
The 35-year-old from Northern Ireland has endured a troubled last 18 months having declared himself bankrupt, dealing with a divorce, and also proceedings for child support and access.
Things got so bad towards the end of last year that the former Masters champion from Antrim even talked about quitting the sport with his financial woes taking hold.
But a court hearing in December removed that threat as Allen looks to get back on a sound footing in his personal affairs.
And yesterday he got some more good news over access to his daughter before going out into the arena in north London and narrowly being edged out 6-5 by the world No2 Trump.
Forgetting for a moment Allen’s morning focus before the contest began at 1pm, it was a gripping match that saw Trump edge ahead three times in a clash of two former Masters champions, but Allen pegging him back on each occasion to stand at 3-3.
Then the Antrim player moved ahead for the first time at 4-3, and it looked for all the world as if he would be going two up with three to play having got Trump requiring a snooker in frame eight. Allen missed a simple red that would certainly have seen his opponent concede.
But having missed it, the Juddernaut took advantage to get the snooker and clear up to make it 4-4 in what proved a massive turning point – leaving the arena snarling and punching the air in an uncharacteristic display of raw emotion.
After the match, Allen said: “Obviously I am disappointed to lose, I had my chance in the last frame and I didn’t take it. But overall Judd was the better player today, he scored heavier and his safety was better. I was hanging on and proud of myself to still be in the ,match. I thought I was poor and he was good.
“I was as prepared as I could be. I’m not going into too much detail but today was a really good day for me. Snooker result aside I had a really good morning with a court hearing that couldn’t have gone any better, that didn’t finish until 12.25pm.
“That couldn’t have gone any better, even if it wasn’t ideal on the day. However even though I lost on the table – I definitely won today. Today was about my daughter and access and that went as I wanted, and I was always going to be happy win or lose.
“And the hearing I had in December means the worries about maybe not playing any more have also gone. That decision went in my favour too, so I am free to play. I was under pressure over the bankruptcy, I might have had to play just to pay the trustee and I wasn’t prepared to do that for two and a half years.
“I had practised well before this event. I am not where I want to be yet, there is still lots to sort out off the table but today was huge for me. Other than the match I am really happy.
“People might say ‘you should be really disappointed, you’ve lost in the second biggest tournament’. But I’m not, and I’ll go back and see my daughter now and that’s more important.”
It was also a big day for Trump, through, who lifted this trophy in 2019. Last year he was forced to withdraw shortly before the Masters event, as tournament favourite, having tested positive for Covid. And the year before he exited in the first round.
But having somehow snatched victory in frame eight from the jaws of defeat he then rattled in a tournament-high break of 135 to go 5-4 up. And even when Allen gutsily forced the decider Trump held his nerve with a 62 clearance to keep his hopes of a second Masters title alive.
Trump, who also made breaks of 101, 101 and 88, said: “Wow. I have been waiting for this for a long time having lost a few close ones this season and you can lose the belief. So there is a tremendous sense of relief. It is such a good feeling because I have had a tough season so far.
“So the way I battled back to win the match and finished it off, I am really proud of myself. The eighth frame was huge and I did do a little fist pump. I did feel that overall I had been the better player and if I had been 5-3 down I would have felt hard done by.
“I couldn’t help myself after that frame, I am usually more reserved than that. But I think it was this rowdy London crowd that brought it out in me.
“Mark didn’t make many mistakes and it was a good game to be involved in. In the decider when Mark fluked a red at the start of it I did fear the worst because he does have incredible bottle under pressure and seems to make the big clearances a lot more often than not. But I did get a chance, and hopefully I am just getting warmed up here. "