Mark Allen is confident he can cope with the challenge of defending his title when he heads to the Dafabet Masters next week, and aired his desire to be recognised as the best ever player to emerge from Northern Ireland.

Allen won the crown for the first time twelve months  ago, beating Kyren Wilson in the final. He went on to have the best year of his career in 2018, winning the International Championship and Scottish Open ranking events as well as reaching the final of the UK Championship.

The 32-year-old from Antrim has been drawn against Luca Brecel in the opening match at Alexandra Palace in London on Sunday.

"I’ve got to deal with the tag of being defending champion and whenever I've had it before I've done reasonably well," said Allen.

"I don’t see why it should be different this time just because it is the Masters. There is a lot of pressure with the Masters because it is an elite tournament, but I am looking forward to it.

"Everyone in the top 16 can play to a really high level. Ronnie O’Sullivan aside - because he is so talented - the difference is mental. They can all beat each other on any given day.

"Players like Mark Selby and Mark Williams do it more consistently because they are so strong mentally. The mind is so important in elite sport."

The World No 6 feels that, given his recent success, he deserves to be considered among the best ever players from his homeland.

"I don’t want to speak out of turn, but I feel like I am the best snooker player that has ever come from Northern Ireland, although perhaps not the best winner yet," he said.

"Obviously Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor have won three world titles between them. In my mind, if I want to get in the conversation, I have to win the World Championship. If I do that, then perhaps I will deserve to be talked about in the same league as them."

Other top stars in the field at the Dafabet Masters, which runs from 13-20 January, include Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby, Mark Williams, John Higgins and Judd Trump.

It’s snooker’s biggest invitation event and one of the Triple Crown tournaments alongside the World and UK Championships. An elite field of the world’s top 16 players are chasing the £200,000 top prize and the Paul Hunter Trophy.