Joe O’Connor, the 16th and final qualifier for the Players Championship in Wolverhampton shocked the crowd by defeating the top-seeded player Mark Allen 6-3 in the first round. Despite Allen having already won three ranking titles this season, O’Connor, just 27 years old, took a surprise 3-0 lead, thanks in part to a pair of superb breaks of 63 and 64.
Allen clawed his way back to narrow the margin to 4-2 with excellent runs of 85 and 91. Allen had hoped to further reduce the deficit but O’Connor responded calmly with a massive 132 clearance, leaving him just one frame from victory at 5-2.
After some scrappy play, Allen managed to win the 8th frame and close the gap behind O’Connor at 5-3. To close out the night, O’Connor, ranked 37th in the world, finished the match in style in the 9th frame with a perfectly composed 45 clearance.
Allen had difficulty with his positional play throughout the entire game and O’Connor took advantage of this, clinically clearing up after each of Allen’s mistakes. Eventually, the unforced errors in Allen’s game were his downfall and with O’Connor on top form, the match could only end one way.
Even so, this was a huge disappointment for Allen and his fans in the crowd. Allen’s poor performance was epitomized by a terrible safety shot in the final frame while leading O’Connor by 49 points to 19. Taking advantage of this unexpected gift, O’Connor clinched the game with a lovely series of shots to win 6-3 in the opening round of the Players Championship.
However, Allen wasn’t the only player to disappoint the bookmakers. Several high profile players including the legendary Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams failed to qualify for the event entirely. But every cloud has a silver lining and the sun was definitely shining on Joe O’Connor as he progressed to the next round of the Players Championship.