There was World Championship heartbreak for Joe Swail in Sheffield on Thursday night.
The Belfast cueman – now playing as an amateur – would have been just one win away from a dream return to the Crucible had he beaten Mark Joyce in a qualifier at the English Institute of Sport.
The 43-year-old – who has produced some of his greatest displays at the Crucible, snooker's spiritual home – put up a battling performance but was eventually edged out by the Englishman.
The £1.1million tournament starts tomorrow week, with Mark Allen now the only Ulsterman still in contention.
Swail, who reached the World Championship semi-finals in 2000 and 2001as well as being a regular in the elite top 16, was left with it all to do last night, after ending the morning session 6-3 down.
But he hit back with the first two frames of the evening session to put pressure on the Walsall cueman, who reached the quarter-finals of the 2010 UK Championship.
Joyce surged 8-6 ahead, leaving Swail needing four of the remaining five frames.
The next two frames were shared before the 29-year-old wrapped it up, triumphing 10-7.
Joyce will play Michael Holt today for a place at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre, the winner entering Monday's draw (1.30pm) along with the world's top 16.
One possible opponent is Allen, now up to number six in the rankings following the recent successful defence of his World Open title in China.
The Antrim potter will play one of the qualifiers in the first round, with big names like six-times finalist Jimmy White, Dublin's 1997 world champion Ken Doherty and 2002 winner Peter Ebdon still in the mix for a place.
Swail will continue campaigning as an amateur, after making the switch from the professional ranks at the end of last season, during which he won £26,450 in prize money.
But Swail, who is congenitally hearing-impaired, can look back on victories in the qualifiers over Adam Duffy and 2009 world billiards champion Pankaj Advani with great pride.
The World Championship qualifiers are a tough challenge but Swail has risen to the occasion – much like he always seemed to do at the Crucible.
The ever-popular White is one win away from a crack at the World Championship after surviving his second qualifier.
The 50-year-old has not reached the main draw since 2006, when he was beaten in the first round by David Gray. However after defeating Tian Pengfei in his opening qualifier, the world number 57 beat a second Chinese player in Xiao Guodong to set up a clash with fellow Englishman Robert Milkins.
The winner of that Sunday showdown will go into Monday's draw.
While White's hopes remain alive, six-time champion Steve Davis bowed out in qualifying, the 55-year-old losing 10-7 to Norwegian Kurt Maflin.
Chinese star Liang Wenbo beat Jimmy Robertson 10-3, David Gilbert defeated Maltese whirlwind Tony Drago 10-8, Alan McManus was a 10-8 winner over Nigel Bond and Thailand's Dechawat Poomjaeng beat Anthony Hamilton 10-4.
Ronnie O'Sullivan, about to return from a self-imposed 12-month exile, begins his defence of the title next Saturday morning.