Mark Allen fears he could be denied the chance of finally winning a world title.
The 35-year-old from Antrim enjoyed a hugely emotional success at his home Northern Ireland Open late on Sunday night with a thrilling and dramatic 9-8 comeback win over John Higgins.
But after pocketing the £70,000 first prize and holding with pride the Alex Higgins trophy named in honour of a Belfast legend, Allen again lifted the lid on a tough off-table set of circumstances.
The former Masters champion has been embroiled in a series of legal entanglements including declaring himself bankrupt and separate proceedings for divorce and child support.
The new world No9 again darkly hinted that he is far from clear of those issues to the extent his very future in snooker remains in doubt, and also suggested he might not see a penny of his latest £70,000 cheque.
Allen would love nothing better than to follow in the footsteps of fellow countrymen Higgins and Dennis Taylor and add to a legacy by winning the Betfred World Championship at the Crucible.
With all the turmoil and distraction away from the green baize, his tour de force in Belfast, where he so wanted to win, was a commendable masterclass of guts and determination.
Allen said: “It has been a tough time away from the table but a lot of the things that have been going on the last 18 months have put things in clear perspective for me.
“I realise how much I love the sport even though I am not sure for how long I am going to able to play - it is out of my hands now, there is a threat of possibly not being able to play going forward.
“It has made me appreciate snooker and how much I love competing. I feel like I have got the game to compete against the very best.
“And to win a big tournament with all that stuff going on in the background I think shows where I am at mentally – in a good place.
“It would be great if I could continue to play for a lot of years to come and I do believe I have the ability to bring back a world title back to Northern Ireland.
“It is tough – and you only get one chance a year. Alex Higgins did it twice and Dennis Taylor did it once.
“Snooker wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for the likes of Alex Higgins and Jimmy White. They were the benchmark in the 70s and 80s – rock stars really.
“They took snooker to new levels and obviously being from Northern Ireland I am very proud of that history, and looking to follow in Alex’s footsteps.
“To be honest winning this title and the financial ramifications makes no difference over whether I continue to play or not. That is out of my hands.
“I really hope I can, it is the only thing I am good at and the only thing I have ever done in my life. But that will take care of itself over the next few months.
“I am not sure I am going to get any of the prize money I won for the title, or play in the next event. But I still dug deep and never gave up.
“I believe I can win a world title. There isn’t much difference to being able to win the other tournaments. It is the same players, just a longer distance.
“There is no reason I can’t do well at the Crucible. I haven’t got a great record there, but I didn’t have a great record in Belfast and I have won the title and turned that around.”
There were many special moments for Allen in a memorable night at the Waterfront Hall. And he added: “I had my partner there and also my little girl as well.
“And I even had my mum there, I didn’t know she was coming. She had her wee oxygen tank and her wheelchair. She only leaves the house for special occasions, so that was a real privilege.”
Through his bitter disappointment at letting an 8-6 lead slip, Higgins, so close to winning a 32nd ranking title almost 27 years after his first, was generous in defeat.
The Scottish four-time world champion could have set a new record for longevity from the first career ranking title to the most recent.
As it is, that record will stay with Ronnie O’Sullivan at 26 years and 262 days from the time he won the UK Championship in 1993 at the age of just 17 to his sixth world title in 2020.
Higgins said: “I have no doubt Mark can win a world title – he is such a talented player and has everything in his game. It is just difficult that tournament.
“You get ready for it and hope things go your way. The closest Mark came was years ago when I played him in the semi-finals. But no question he has got the talent.”