Snooker: Swail targets Grand return in Galway
After a year away from professional snooker, Joe Swail is thrilled to be among the line-up at the Players Tour Championship Grand Finals in Galway – having qualified as an amateur.
Nicknamed the Outlaw (with a nod to the 1976 Western film The Outlaw Josey Wales), Swail thought his career was dead and buried when he lost his place on the main tour at the end of last season, having dropped out of the world's top 64 after a severe loss of form.
But now the 43-year-old from Belfast is back with all guns blazing in Galway next week and looking to claim a few major scalps, starting with a first-round match with Stephen Maguire.
Nine of the world's top ten ranked stars will battle it out for one of the biggest prizes in world snooker (€119,000) in the 32-player tournament which takes place in Galway at the Bailey Allen Hall at NUI Galway from March 12 to 17.
World No 1 and Masters champion Mark Selby, four-time world champion John Higgins, potting sensation Judd Trump, Asia's top player Ding Junhui and Ireland's Ken Doherty are among the field.
Competing as an amateur, Swail decided to enter a few of the PTC events this season and surprised himself as glimmers of the game which took him to two World Championship semi-finals returned. At the Paul Hunter Classic in Furth, Germany, last August he enjoyed a sensational run to the final, beating the likes of Jimmy White, Shaun Murphy and Barry Hawkins.
Watched by a crowd of some 2,000 fans, he couldn't quite pull off the fairytale finish as he lost 4-1 to Mark Selby in the final. But it was enough to convince the charismatic Ulsterman that his ability with a cue was still intact.
"I have missed playing in the big tournaments because snooker is in my blood," says Swail. "When I first dropped off the tour I thought I'd had enough of the game. But as this season has gone on I have watched a lot of snooker on TV, which I never used to do.
"I realised I still love the game and maybe I still have something to offer. I hadn't really prepared for the PTCs but I decided to give it a go and see what happened.
"I'm excited about Galway now because it's been quite a while since I had a really big event to look forward to."
His performances this season could give him the chance to return to the main tour next season, but the Outlaw is yet to decide whether the time is right to get back in the saddle.
"It's still in the balance," he said. "I'd like to think that I will give it a try but I'm still undecided. I don't want to go back just to make up the numbers, I'm only going to play if I feel that I can cut it."