Mark Allen says his Masters triumph on Sunday will give him belief he can be a genuine contender at this year’s World Championship in Sheffield.
Antrim man Allen, 31, became the first Northern Irishman to win one of snooker’s three major titles since Dennis Taylor’s 1987 Masters victory.
Allen secured the title by beating England’s Kyren Wilson 10-7.
“Hopefully I can take confidence from that and bring it to the World Championship,” said Allen.
The Masters champion received a hero’s welcome home from family, friends and fans at Belfast International Airport on Monday, before playing an exhibition match against another local professional, Joe Swail.
“I’ve been saying for a long time that I felt my game was in good shape but I wasn’t getting the results to show that. This was confirmation of that,” added Allen.
Allen emulates Higgins and Taylor
Allen is the third Northern Irishman to win the Masters title, with Alex Higgins having triumphed in the event in 1978 and 1981.
While Allen had won three ranking titles prior to Sunday’s success, his failure to secure one of the game’s big three titles had been a blot on his career.
That all changed at Alexandra Palace as he dominated the evening session to see off Wilson.
“I’ve always been touted to be going in the footsteps of Alex and Dennis, but to be finally filling those shoes is a big accolade,” he said.
“I need to go on and win more tournaments like Alex and Dennis did. It would be nice to bring that world trophy back to Northern Ireland.”
Higgins won the world title in 1972 and 1982 with Taylor memorably clinching the 1985 title at the Crucible by edging out Steve Davis.
Allen thrilled by welcome
Allen looked moved by the large crowd that greeted him on his arrival home.
“It was only when I walked down the steps there and I got that reception that it really started to sink in,” he added.
“It’s been a bit surreal all day. I didn’t really know whether it had actually happened.”
However, Allen said the reception was indicative of the support the Northern Irish public gives its sports stars.
“I really appreciative every bit of it and it spurs me on,” he said.
“As Northern Ireland sportspeople, we punch so far above our weight.
“With the likes of Rory McIlroy, Carl Frampton, Stephen Ferris and the Northern Ireland football team…we have so many greats and I always felt I was lagging behind a wee bit.”