Stephen Maguire bagged a cheque for £260,000 and his first ranking title since 2013, with a 10-6 defeat of Mark Allen in the final of the Coral Tour Championship.
Maguire gained the final place in snooker's most elite field only when Ding Junhui withdrew from the event, and in a performance echoing Denmark at Euro 92, he took full advantage. Beginning with an imperious display against Neil Robertson and ending on Friday night with a delightful final session, he was the best player throughout the tournament.
Not always was he the best player in the final, particularly during a scrappy first session which he did well to escape at 4-4, but come the evening there was only one man in it. And, to put the icing on top of the juiciest cake of his career, his 139 break in frame nine was the highest of a tournament in which he made eight in total.
Allen, who will have been frustrated not to win at least five if not six of the opening eight frames, lost his first ranking final of the season having failed to match the levels he produced against Mark Selby a day earlier. This was a step forward on the whole, but his cue-ball control went missing when he needed it most and without it, he could not contain his close friend.
And there was more frustration in frame 15, when Allen knew full well he needed to pot pink and the colours for a 140 break, only to miss as he tried to force the cue ball back up the table. An anguished yelp and rueful smile was fitting of a final played in excellent spirit, and fitting too of the bare facts: he was not quite as good as the man in the other corner, who took the next for the title.
"Nuts," said Maguire, when asked to sum up. "I actually don't know what to say. I've managed to fluke my way to the title. Over the last couple of years I've just accepted that I'll never win another tournament again. It's a great feeling, unreal.
"I've had a great season, this just tops it off. I'm excited about Sheffield now. I can't have any more confidence going into Sheffield this year. I'm looking forward to it."
Allen was gracious in defeat, eyeing the bigger picture as his sport emerged successfully from lockdown, during which the Northern Irishman volunteered and delivered food parcels locally. Typical of the man, he'd earlier claimed that was a selfish gesture, the product of being bored. Anyone listening to him here will know more likely is that he's simply a good egg.
"I made too many mistakes today," he confessed. "He stepped up a bit tonight, played much better than he had earlier. I just didn't play my best all day, (but) all credit to Stephen. I'm gutted to lose, but if I'm going to lose to anyone, I'd rather lose to one of my best mates on tour. I'm just glad to be back playing."
Allen, who took the first four frames of his semi-final match on Thursday, again started brightly. First he took the opening frame after Maguire missed an easy black of its spot, and then he made a frame-winning contribution in the second, a scrappy affair in which the first pot came after 12 minutes.
Spying another whitewash, Allen was in command of the third but now it was his turn to miss an easy black and Maguire capitalised with a nerve-settling 89 break to halve his deficit. Then, with Allen again missing when among the balls, Maguire landed his second counter-punch, a break of 69 for 2-2.
Returning from the mid-session interval, a brilliant Maguire safety forced a mistake from Allen and allowed the Scotsman to go into the lead for the first time, before Allen replied with a 125 clearance triggered by a stunning, three-ball plant at the beginning of the frame.
Now it was Allen in the ascendancy but only just, a messy seventh frame going his way after Maguire missed a red he would expect to have potted. But, fittingly, he took his chance to even things up once more, and in truth 4-4 was the right scoreline.
It was not always pretty from either player, each looking to have shown their best earlier in the tournament, and it became a question of which of them, if either, could recapture their previous form. That, or we would be in for a long night, with the tension of this unique situation - friends and rivals and a bonus on the side - set to colour the match.
But instead, Maguire came out with a sense of purpose, as though rid of the shackles of the afternoon. His 139 break was a statement, but in a way it was his ability to back it up and take the following frame which underscored the fact that he was ready to end the drought, and to capture the biggest cheque of his career.
Allen fought hard with a 64 break to get back within one, but his punch was followed by two on the counter from Maguire, who by now was four frames clear and within one of victory. Allen though dominated the next and ought to have picked the high-break prize out of Maguire's pocket, only to miss a regulation pink, before his lack of both touch and fortune came back to bite him in the next.
A dramatic 16th frame first saw Allen run out of position when in pole position, before a lengthy and enthralling safety battle. Allen again was in the ascendancy, putting his opponent in a nightmare snooker, but opted to take on a pot instead of put Maguire back having already missed three times.
Allen failed to take care of the following yellow and was left to regret his decision, though he still had a pot for the frame, a mid-length pink which never threatened the pocket. That sent the frame back into a tense exchange of safety shots, which was unlocked when Maguire fired in one final, long pink, before prodding home a delicate black.
Like that, seven years of frustration vanished as Maguire won a tournament he had narrowly failed to qualify for, beating two world champions and his best friend on tour to do it. It was never meant to be easy, was it?
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