Belfast's defeated Joe Swail still has world ambition
Joe Swail has pledged to come back stronger than ever after the heartbreak of falling at the final hurdle in the battle for a place at the Crucible.
The Belfast cueman had already beaten Alexander Ursenbache 10-4 followed by a dramatic 10-9 victory over Dominic Dale, but old foe Matthew Stevens triumphed in the final round of qualifying.
The Welshman had a slender 5-4 overnight lead but powered through the second session to win 10-5 and book a place in the £1.25million event, which starts on Saturday at the legendary Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
"Gutted to lose but good luck to Matthew at the Crucible," said Swail, after his exit at the Ponds Forge Centre in Sheffield.
"It's a horrible round to lose (in) but (I'll take) time off and look forward to next season," added the 45-year-old, who reached the World Championship semi-finals in 2000 - when he lost to Stevens - and 2001.
After Stevens moved 6-4 ahead, the 11th frame came down to the final black but Swail fouled on the cue ball to hand his opponent a crucial 7-4 lead.
Stevens took total command by winning the next two to make it 9-4 and although Swail pulled one back, it proved too little too late.
Stevens, 37, will be making his first appearance at the World Championship since 2013 after losing in the final qualifying round last year.
"It's nice to go back to the Crucible. I can't wait to play there again," Stevens said.
"I lost last year to Tom Ford and you start thinking as you get older perhaps you'll never go back.
"I feel pretty good in practice and I think I'd be a match for anyone if I play my game," Stevens added.
Dublin's 1997 world champion Ken Doherty failed to reach the main draw after losing 10-3 to Mark Davis.
Doherty had trailed 8-1 after the first session.
"I tried to make a fight of it but it just didn't happen. I was too far back," said Doherty.
The 45-year-old added that he would love another chance to play at the Crucible.
"The crowd there is very special and when you miss out it does hurt," he said.
"I've had some good times and hopefully I will make one more appearance before I hang up the cue.
"It's getting more difficult every year but I still love playing and competing."
Doherty had ended 10-times women's world champion Reanne Evans' hopes of becoming the first female to reach the Crucible, winning a dramatic first qualifying round showdown 10-8 after the 29-year-old had chances to take the match to a deciding frame.
Graeme Dott - world champion in 2006 - is through after beating China's Yu Delu 10-7.
"I don't care who I play," said the Scot. "Ronnie O'Sullivan in the first game, why not? I've played three games and he's not played any.
"I don't think anyone is going to want to draw me.
"I'm not saying they will be intimidated but there will be easier games than me."
After Swail's exit, Mark Allen will be the only Ulsterman in the race for the £300,000 top prize.
The 29-year-old is regarded as a lively outsider for the title.
Mark Selby begins his defence of the title on Saturday morning, while Ronnie O'Sullivan starts as favourite to win a sixth crown.