As a teenager, Barry Hawkins worked as a junior in an office. It was a chance of a guaranteed income, gradually climbing up the career ladder: a nice, steady nine-to-five, Monday to Friday job which could have lasted his whole working life.
But he quit to pursue a much more precarious career in professional snooker. Here there were no guarantees. He was up against talented fellow professionals, the vagaries of luck and, often, his own limitations – the same battle every player faces.
What a good decision is turned out to be. He followed his dream. How many people can say that?
And now the dream has turned into reality. Barry is in the final of the Betfair World Championship.
If he beats Ronnie O’Sullivan on Monday it will be the biggest shock in a Crucible final since Joe Johnson defeated Steve Davis 18-12 in 1986.
This was a sensational upset but Johnson had three advantages that Hawkins does not:
1) He had the crowd on his side as a Yorkshireman
2) He had always beaten Davis as an amateur
3) Davis had lost a psychologically scarring world final to Dennis Taylor the previous year
How do you solve a problem like Ronnie? It may not be any consolation that few are tipping a Hawkins win so he does not have the pressure of expectation. I’m sure already someone at BBC2 is cutting together an extra long episode of Coast, ready to go on Monday evening.
But world finals aren’t won in the theatre of opinion on the internet, they are won in a real and iconic theatre in Sheffield. Hawkins has earned his place in the game’s showpiece finale.
It’s an irony as he prepares for a best of 35 frame final that the turning point came 16 months ago when he won the Shootout in Blackpool, in which every match lasts a mere ten minutes.
The £32,000 first prize was a bonus but the boost of confidence he received by winning a TV title helped propel Hawkins in the right direction and six months later he captured his maiden ranking title, the Australian Goldfields Open.
Hawkins was impressive in that Bendigo final because, resuming 5-3 up after the first session against the archly competitive Peter Ebdon, he sailed to a 9-3 victory without any twitching or anxiety.
He has since produced some good performances. He had chances to put Judd Trump away in the first round of the Masters. He did beat Mark Selby in the quarter-finals of the German Masters.
At the Crucible, he ousted Selby and Ding Junhui before his nervy 17-14 win over Ricky Walden in the semi-finals.
After two sessions Hawkins had made a highest break of just 47, but Walden failed to put him away and the Kent man came out trailing just 9-7.
At 12-8 down, he returned to the arena inspired, fighting for every chance and striking the ball with much greater authority. He won eight frames in a row and finally hung on to win.
Anyone in snooker who knows Barry will be delighted for him. He’s someone who loves the game but doesn’t think it owes him a living. He has been prepared to work for it.
To the general public he is largely unknown. He has kept his head down and played. When he’s won he’s been gracious, when he’s lost he’s been gracious. For this reason he is well regarded by his fellow players.
So the last line of defence against the seemingly unstoppable O’Sullivan comes in the unlikely form of Barry Hawkins: a player who combines fierce determination with genuine humility.
He has put in the years of work and slaved away, sometimes for very little reward. Now is his moment to shine.
Win or lose he has made his family proud and guaranteed memories that will live with him for the rest of his days.
To play in a world final, even if it is to be against a force of nature, is an ambition realised, two days to cherish.
O’Sullivan has played the best snooker of the tournament, quite comfortably. He is playing well in all departments and his discipline and clear thinking is exemplary.
But it takes two to make a final and Hawkins, who is guaranteed £125,000 for his May Day bank holiday adventure, is right now where every player on the planet wants to be.
Here is a man who has followed his dream all the way to the greatest snooker stage of them all.