Joe Swail is about to embark on the most crucial few weeks of his career - including a likely showdown with fellow Ulsterman Mark Allen.
A strong finish to the season could see the 41-year-old push for a place in the world’s top 32, which would be a massive boost to his hopes of remaining on the main tour for a few seasons yet.
“I’m enjoying my snooker and doing well in the next few tournaments is vital,” said the Belfast man, twice a World Championship semi-finalist.
But the experienced Swail can afford to relax and enjoy himself this weekend when he competes in the inaugural one-frame World Snooker Shoot-out in Blackpool before the really important business starts next week with the German Masters, a new ranking event.
And the £250,000 Berlin tournament has been given a large helping of extra spice for Swail with the draw pitting him against Antrim potter Allen — providing the world number 45 can overcome Belgium’s Hans Blanckaert in a preliminary round on Wednesday. World number 11 Allen awaits the winner on Thursday afternoon.
The Northern Ireland pair have met once before, Swail winning 5-3 in 2009.
“I beat Mark in the Welsh Open the year I went on to reach the final. It would be nice to do the same in the German Masters but I’m sure Mark will have different ideas!” said Swail.
“We are good friends and we practice a lot together so it’s a bit unfortunate that we have to play each other but we will just have to get on with it.
“We are both fiercely competitive even when we practice with each other so it should make for a good match.
“But before the match and afterwards we will have a bit of banter. Of course, on the table it will be a different story altogether.
“Mark is a brilliant player and can go on to be as good as he wants to be. He has been knocking on the door for the last few years.
“It’s only a matter of time before the door opens and he wins a big tournament. I just hope it isn’t going to be this season’s German Masters,” laughed Swail.
“But I am well aware that my preliminary round match could be a bit of a banana skin,” said ‘The Outlaw’, whose German Masters qualifying campaign culminated in a 5-0 victory over world number 21 Martin Gould.
“But the preliminary round is such an important match for me — I have to make sure I negotiate it safely.
“Blanckaert is a handy player so I have to be on my guard.
“I would love to make it through to the World Championship at the Crucible this year. A good run at the German Masters and then the Welsh Open would be the ideal preparation for achieving that.
“I really need to do a bit of damage over the next month or so. That’s very important.”
And Swail backed Allen to get the monkey off his back and put his run of six losing semi-finals behind him.
“Getting beat in semi-finals isn’t a nice feeling,” he said.
“But Mark’s only 24 — I had to wait a lot longer to reach my first major final. Mark will reach a major final very soon — he just needs to retain his focus and not get too frustrated.”
And Swail can’t wait to get started in the £130,000 World Snooker Shoot-out.
“I’m really looking forward to it — it should be good fun.
“With the time restriction on shots, there will be a lot of twitching involved!” laughed Swail. “But it should be brilliant for television.”
Swail faces Mark Davis tomorrow afternoon, while Allen is in action against Ryan Day tonight.
A bit of light relief before the expected all Ulster clash.
Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor once met in the Irish Masters in a tense battle shortly after the Hurricane had threatened to have his fellow Ulsterman shot.
“I don’t think our match, if it comes to pass, will be played in that sort of atmosphere,” smiled Swail.
“But we will both be just as desperate to win.”