Mark Allen is the best prospect to come out of Northern Ireland since the heady days of Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor.
They were both world champions and I believe Allen is good enough to be one as well.
As an amateur, he captured the Northern Ireland national title at all age levels. He subsequently won the European Under 19 Championship, European Amateur Championship and World Amateur Championship.
He made his television debut as a wildcard for the 2005 Northern Ireland Trophy. In his first match he beat Steve Davis 4-0. He then beat John Higgins 4-1.
So the signs were there from the off that Allen was not only a fine player but – crucially – able to handle the big occasion.
He has made it into the top 16 after only three seasons on the professional circuit. Stephen Hendry, Peter Ebdon and John Higgins also did this (Ronnie O’Sullivan and Alan McManus managed it after just two).
Off the table, Allen is a nice, easy going sort of bloke. However, on the table he has, at times, appeared to be channelling the spirit of the Hurricane.
Ken Doherty, not one to speak out unless absolutely necessary, complained about his behaviour and attitude during their match at the Grand Prix last year.
Allen, to his credit, immediately accepted he had been in the wrong.
Snooker, like any individual sport, can be very frustrating and many, many players have struggled to keep their emotions in check.
Letting off some steam is sometimes a useful thing but I think back to the heydays of snooker’s two greatest names – Hendry and Steve Davis – and recall the blank, poker faces they held at all times so that their opponents could not detect any sign of weakness.
Allen clearly cares a great deal about his snooker. So do his family: his parents sold their house when he was young to help fund his career.
This gamble has paid off and I don’t think it will be too long before we see him winning titles.
However, one worry of late has been his tendency to lose leads. It happened at the Crucible where he lost 10-9 from 9-7 up to Hendry, a defeat which left him in tears.
It also happened at the Northern Ireland Trophy last month. Allen led Dominic Dale 4-1 but only beat him 5-4; he led Mark Williams 4-0 and beat him 5-3.
Of course, all three players performed very well to come back and these three results hardly constitute a crisis.
Allen is a fast, fiery, exciting prospect and well placed to finish inside the top eight at the end of the season.
He wasn’t even born when Higgins and Taylor won their world titles but has the ability to emulate their achievements.