Belfast Telegraph

Joe Swail retires 'in good place' after a long battle with mental demons

Joe Swail yesterday
Joe Swail yesterday
Joe Swail admits he has had dark days
Joe Swail at Waterfront Hall in 2008
Joe Swail at the 2001 World Championship semi-final at the Crucible

By Frank Brownlow

Snooker star Joe Swail last night revealed he is battling crippling depression - and has quit the professional ranks after a glittering 30-year career.

The Belfast potter - who twice reached the World Championship semi-finals at the Crucible and is one of the most popular players on the circuit - confessed he has barely lifted a cue since exiting the World Championship qualifiers in April.

Swail, who will turn 50 next month, said: "I have been fighting depression. Snooker is very fickle, a game of highs and lows. I had stopped enjoying it - I had fallen out of love with it.

"Snooker triggers certain health issues. You bring snooker home with you.

"I had stopped practising so I was under-prepared for tournaments. Then you are losing matches and it is a vicious circle mentally."

Swail also revealed that he had discussed depression with fellow Ulster snooker star Mark Allen, who has also suffered from the illness in the past.

Five-time world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan has also battled mental demons.

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Swail added: "I had depression for a few years before I even realised I had it and although I wouldn't go as far as to say I was suicidal, it is a slippery slope.

"I sought help for it and luckily it was the right help.

"It is good to talk about your problems. It is so important to get the awareness out there, get it out in the open. The first step is going to see your doctor.

"I have at times used alcohol to try to defeat it but I never touched drugs."

Swail - who has earned almost £1,300,000 in prize money - feels dropping off the professional tour seven years ago may have sparked his depression.

"There were a lot of things going on in my life but I felt I was too young to retire. It was around that time that I was diagnosed with depression," he said.

"I would describe it like being in a black hole."

Swail, from Joy Street in the Markets, is partially deaf and has had increasing problems with tinnitus.

"My partial deafness has never adversely affected my snooker but tinnitus can be a problem as it has caused me difficulty with sleeping," he said.

Swail says he has no doubts that retiring from the professional game is the right thing to do.

"I have had enough of the pro circuit, the constant round of flights and hotels. I just want to enjoy my life. I am in a good place mentally at the moment," he said. "Snooker is a pressurised situation. It is nice to have kicked off the shackles.

"I am loving having the time to get out onto the golf course.

"It is difficult being based in Ireland and trying to commute to play in tournaments. I won't miss trying to do that.

"I can do what I want now, like spend time with my family.

"I have a deep interest in coaching and that it something I would like to devote more time to. In the past I have had to turn down coaching sessions because I was flying off to tournaments - my time wasn't my own."

But Swail will certainly not be lost to the competitive game as he will be playing against the likes of Jimmy White and Stephen Hendry on the seniors tour.

"I am going to play on the seniors tour next season but there isn't the same time and commitment required so that is something I am looking forward to," he said.

Joe suffered a heartbreaking setback when his dad Billy passed away 18 months ago. His dad was his number one fan, travelling to tournaments all over the UK. His mother Josephine passed away in 1998.

"I grew up through the Troubles and there were always barricades at the end of our street," recalled Joe, who was inspired to take up the game by watching Belfast legend Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins on television as a boy.

"I used to always be carrying a cue case which wasn't a great thing to be carrying in those dark days. I actually had a guy who had served as a soldier in the Troubles approach me a few years ago to tell me he remembered the cue case but that he and his colleagues knew the Swail boys were snooker players and we were okay.

"I was very lucky to have had a great family upbringing and my dad used to come to the Crucible and other venues.

"I know he probably felt I underachieved slightly - he knew what I was capable of. But I look back on my career with great pride. I know I burnt the candle at both ends at times - but I had a great time and I enjoyed myself.

"I was in the world's top 16 and played professionally for nearly 30 years. Not many can say that."

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