Among the first set of matches in the Welsh Open today is an all Northern Irish battle between Mark Allen and Joe Swail.
Allen is the rising star and certainly capable of winning the title.
But what of Swail?
Joe’s had a career that has swung between great inspirational moments and a fair degree of disappointment.
His exit at last season’s World Championship most definitely fell into the latter category. He fought back from 12-8 against Liang Wenbo but was beaten 13-12.
Two points about this defeat:
1) It was the first time he had ever lost a decider in the World Championship, having won something like eight or nine
2) Had he won he would have become the first player ever to drop out of the top 16 and top 32 and return to the top 16 on more than one occasion. Joe did this first a few years ago. Rex Williams also did it in the 1980s.
Swail has appeared in nine ranking event semi-finals but never a final.
In 2000, he was 9-6 down to Stephen Maguire in the final qualifying round of the World Championship but came back to win 10-9.
This was the start of a fairytale run through to the semi-finals at the Crucible, which included a 13-12 second round defeat of John Parrott from 12-8 down.
It was an emotional run, too. Swail’s mother, Josephine, had died of cancer and the public warmed to this sincere, dogged competitor attempting to land the greatest prize in snooker.
They saw him as human, not some inscrutable face on the TV. Joe is partially deaf and, though this does not necessarily affect his game, it added to the picture of a player battling the odds.
Matthew Stevens beat him in the semi-finals but a year later Swail was back in the last four again. This time, he had come from 10-6 down to beat Mark Williams 13-11 in the second round.
All this got him up to his highest ever ranking, tenth, but then he endured a nightmare run of results and was soon down to 40th.
Things turned back the other way. He won the Irish Championship, put some solid results together and last season, he came from 9-7 down to Judd Trump to reach the Crucible again and come close to a top 16 return.
If you watch him play you’d wonder how this was possible. His cue action is unorthodox to say the least.
But it works for him and that’s all that matters.
He has enjoyed a far better career than most, having turned professional after winning the 1990 English amateur title.
Joe also has one of snooker’s best, if most tenuous, nicknames: ‘The Outlaw.’ This was thanks to Alan Hughes, snooker’s best ever MC, who was a fan of the film ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales.’
His last major semi-final was at the 2001 LG Cup. Time isn’t on his side but don’t rule out another great run in a tournament soon.
He’s that sort of player and has had that sort of career.