The UK Championship, as one of snooker’s truly great events, deserves a high quality final and it is surely going to get one as Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy cross cues in York today.
Both of these players could be out by now. Selby was 3-0 down to Ryan Day in the last 16 and 4-0 down to Neil Robertson in the quarter-finals.
Murphy could have lost 6-4 or 6-5 to Luca Brecel in the quarters and was of course 8-4 down to Ali Carter in the last four.
But they have battled through to the final and the stage is set for a fascinating denouement to a tournament which began long before either was born.
Murphy has the edge 8-5 in previous meetings but Selby won their only contest over a longer distance than best of 11, 17-16 in the semi-finals of the 2007 World Championship.
Selby and Murphy grew up together playing on the then thriving junior circuit. It was here that they learned about matchplay, about the competitive game, about how snooker was not just a bit of fun but about winning or losing.
It was Selby who first made a professional breakthrough, reaching the semi-finals of the 2002 China Open in Shanghai at the age of 18.
He was a naive teenager back then. So disorientated was he by jetlag and a rare foray outside British shores that he was found in the hotel lobby at 1 in the morning trying to hail a taxi for a 2pm start. Despite the darkness he thought it was the afternoon.
Selby beat both Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan in this tournament but soon went backwards, falling down the rankings. However, in the first round of the 2006 World Championship he beat John Higgins and hasn’t looked back since.
A year later he faced Higgins in the Crucible final. In 2008 he won the Masters at his first attempt and the Welsh Open. Another Masters title followed in 2010. Last year he won the Shanghai Masters. He became world no.1 and, after only a few weeks, has wrestled top spot back from Judd Trump regardless of what happens in York today.
Murphy was always a talented potter and twice qualified for the Crucible as a young professional but, like Selby, was going backwards before the 2004/05 season.
Here, he reached his first ranking tournament semi-final at the British Open. He was thrashed 6-0 by John Higgins but got a taste of the big time and duly qualified for the Crucible again the following spring.
Playing with maturity beyond his years, he won the world title, only the second qualifier to do so. He was simply brilliant, bringing his formidable attacking game to the fore with deadly effect.
Since then he has at times struggled to find the balance between attack and defence but against Carter he produced a performance as good as you will see, knocking everything in and really owning the arena.
These two are good friends and staunch supporters of the game. They play in just about everything and are genuinely grateful for the life snooker has given them.
Snooker needs superstars but it also needs dedicated professionals and it has two in today’s showpiece final.
I think Murphy will win if he produces the blitz of potting and break building he conjured against Carter.
Selby, though, is a great all round match player with guile, pluck and patience in abundance.
When they were boys, pitching up at snooker clubs of a weekend for junior events, these were days they dreamed of being involved in.
The UK Championship is steeped in history and, for Selby or Murphy today, glory awaits.