The 2018 UK Championship final will be contested between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Allen at the Barbican Centre in York on Sunday.
The pair emerged from contrasting last four encounters to reach the title decider, where £170,000 is on offer for the winner.
O’Sullivan is the defending champion and is bidding to collect a record-breaking seventh UK Championship crown after easily outplaying Tom Ford in Saturday’s semi-finals.
A victory in the best of 19 frames clash would also see the “Rocket” move clear of Stephen Hendry on the all-time Triple Crown winners’ list with 19 titles.
Allen, on the other hand, is hoping to end the year as he began it – by claiming the silverware in one of snooker’s three majors.
The Northern Irishman had to wait more than a decade to land his maiden Triple Crown trophy when he triumphed in the Masters back in January and becoming a multiple champion of the elite events would arguably be more befitting for a player of Allen’s talent.
The 32 year-old will undoubtedly have his work cut out for him, though, if he’s to upset the odds and deny O’Sullivan in what represents the Englishman’s fourth UK Championship final in five editions.
O’Sullivan and Allen have battled on seven occasions with the head-to-head record tipped just in favour of the former.
However, one positive sign for Allen is that all three of his successes over O’Sullivan have occurred in either the World Championship or the Masters, including this year en route to glory at the Ally Pally, highlighting the Antrim man’s ability to handle the big occasion.
That said, there’ll be nothing that could fully prepare Allen for the cauldron atmosphere that will be generated in a title showdown with the game’s greatest – with no affair coming much bigger than a UK Championship final.
Allen has once before featured at this stage of proceedings in York, when he fell just shy of the target in a high-quality 10-8 defeat to Judd Trump seven years ago.
For O’Sullivan, these kinds of situations are what the 43 year-old plays the game for and such is his overwhelming experience that this final marks his 26th in a Triple Crown event throughout his illustrious career.
It all began 25 years ago in this very tournament when, as a 17 year-old, O’Sullivan stunned that era’s dominant force Hendry to claim his first ranking title.
The five-time world champion is still at the highest echelons of the sport all these years later and, indeed, a triumph on Sunday would see O’Sullivan march one step closer to reclaiming the world number one spot for the first time since 2010.
A significant amount of the headline coverage in the last few days has surrounded O’Sullivan’s controversial comments regarding a breakaway tour and his very public spat with World Snooker supremo Barry Hearn.
Amazingly, these distractions rarely seem to have an impact on his playing performance and O’Sullivan has cruised through to the final to the loss of just three frames since edging past Ken Doherty in the second round this time last week.
While O’Sullivan has enjoyed a relatively comfortable route through having not faced a single top 16 member until this point, Allen has endured a more stressful path.
Whether yesterday’s deciding frame triumph over Stuart Bingham or the prior ties with former champions Stephen Maguire and Neil Robertson will have him match sharp or feeling a little jaded remains to be seen, but one thing Allen can usually rely on are his battling qualities.
It’s unlikely that O’Sullivan will have this UK Championship final all his own way and the packed Barbican could be in store for a treat if the opening session remains close.
Allen has proven he has the game to overcome his opponent but such is O’Sullivan’s form, boasting two pieces of silverware and four finals from the five tournaments he has entered this campaign, it would be a brave man to bet against him.