Alan Hughes, snooker’s legendary former MC, loved a nickname and there were few more esoteric than ‘The Outlaw’ for Joe Swail – in reference to the film The Outlaw Josey Whales.
Yet it turned out to the apt. Swail was a gun-slinging fighter of a player with an unorthodox action but a heart as big as the Irish Sea, never more in evidence that at the World Championship during two memorable years in which he reached the semi-finals.
Swail had survived a nail-biter before he even got to the Crucible in 2000. He trailed 9-6 to Stephen Maguire, who missed a pink for the match. Reprieved, Swail hit back to win 10-9.
He beat Paul Hunter 10-6 in the first round and then from 12-8 down to John Parrott in the last 16 won five frames in succession.
It was an emotional time for Swail. His mother had died of cancer and snooker had not been his only focus.
It was hard not to warm to him. A Belfast boy based in Manchester, he was humble in victory or defeat and had battled a disability, his deafness in one ear.
Swail beat Dominic Dale 13-9 in the quarter-finals and was only 13-12 behind to Matthew Stevens in the semis before the Welshman pulled away to win 17-12.
A year later, Swail was at it again. He trailed Sean Storey 9-7 in the first round but came through 10-9.
But it is his second round match against Mark Williams which may have been his finest moment at the Crucible.
Williams was the defending champion and already well on his way to the status of an all time great.
He led 10-6 heading into Saturday morning’s final session. At 11-8 Williams was two frames from the quarter-finals but Swail won a black ball frame which turned the match. He followed it with a 140 total clearance and grew stronger as Williams began to succumb to the Crucible ‘curse’ of first time champions.
Two sizeable breaks in the last two frames saw Swail over the winning line. It was another comeback and he was on another dramatic Sheffield run.
In the quarter-finals, he played one of his best friends, Patrick Wallace, who was appearing in this stage of a ranking event for the first time.
It was a hard match for both of them. Ordinarily, one would be supporting the other. Between sessions they spent time together. It didn’t feel like the usual Crucible war of attrition.
Wallace led 6-2 but Swail won seven of the eight frames in the middle session and eve tually came home 13-11.
In the semi-finals, he was up against most people’s champion-elect, Ronnie O’Sullivan, who beat him 17-11.
Swail’s career reverted to the wild variations in form that had been a feature for years. He reached his first final at the Welsh Open in 2009 but has since seen his form collapse.
His defeat in the world qualifiers this week means he is off the tour, unless he can keep his place through Q School.
Swail’s last great Crucible hurrah came in 2008 when he played an extraordinary match against Liang Wenbo, which was full of incident and very nearly saw another great escape. 12-8 down, Swail recovered to 12-12 with two centuries but was finally beaten on the line.
For once, the fight had been in vain.