Joe Swail, born in Belfast on 29th August 1969, is Northern Ireland's most prominent professional snooker players. Known throughout the snooker world as 'The Outlaw', a pun on the 1976 film The Outlaw Josey Wales, Joe is widely recognised as one of the most likeable players on the professional circuit and is famed for his dramatic comebacks, admitting he plays at his best when under pressure and coming from behind.
It was the gift of a £8 snooker cue from his parents Billy and Josephine at the age of 11 which ignited Joe's enthusiasm for snooker, a passion which continued throughout his teenage years and which saw him experience huge success on the Irish amateur scene. Joe credits his early snooker inspiration as Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, a fellow Ulsterman from Sandy Row, Belfast, who twice achieved World Champion. He attributes his decision to take up snooker partly to Higgins, acknowledging him as his hero during his formative years. Joe was also greatly inspired by fellow Northern Irish snooker player, Dennis Taylor, citing Dennis' black ball world championship win over Steve Davis in the final as one of his favourite snooker moments.
Joe's debut on the world snooker scene came in 1987 on reaching the final 32 of the World Amateur Championships. He continued his successful amateur career by winning both the British under-19 Championship in 1988 and the English Amateur Championship in 1989-90. Alongside a number of pro-am victories and winning six out of seven ranking tournaments in his native Northern Ireland, Joe also reached the semi-finals of the 1990 World Amateur Championship in Sri Lanka. In 1991, he proceeded to join the professional ranks, the realization of his childhood dreams.
"Ever since I had started playing snooker it had been an ambition to play at professional level,"
Despite the difficulty faced by new professionals due to numerous qualifying rounds for each snooker event, Joe enjoyed a successful debut season, winning the Irish Professional Title and earning a ranking of 53, the third best of all the 300 rookies. By the end of his second season Joe had collected his first major professional title in the Strachan Challenge, had reached a further semi-final and two quarter-finals in full ranking events and had competed at the Crucible for the very first time. As a result of all these achievements, after only two seasons Joe had reached the top 32 at 25th, proceeding the following season to enter the elite top 16 at number 12.
In spite of a few setbacks in the 1997/98 season in which Joe dropped to number 36 in the ranking, his triumph in reaching the semi-finals in the World Championships 2000 made his name at the Crucible and ensured his return to the top 16 in the ranking, the first player to ever do so after dropping out of the top 32. His success continued the following season when once again Joe reached the semi-finals of the 2001 World Championships. Despite losing the semi to Ronnie O’Sullivan 17-11, Joe received his largest sum of prize money of his career, £93,000, and being ranked at an incredible number 10, his best ever position. In recognition of his resurgence into the professional rankings, Joe was presented with an Embassy Special Award, to commend the remarkable improvement in performance which Joe had worked so hard to achieve.
Such an accomplishment is made even more significant by Joe’s own admission that, only a few months prior to his comeback, Joe had considered giving up professional snooker altogether, after a turbulent year in which he had suffered the tragic loss of his mother Josephine to cancer. However, displaying the determination for which he is now renowned, Joe fought to rebuild his career. Commenting on the turnaround, Joe pays tribute to his mum for his decision to renew his ambitions and continue his professional career.
“Since my mum died I have realised it is what she wanted and for the first time in my life I have practised harder than ever before, and lucky enough the results are starting to pay off,"
The 2002/03 season began well for Joe, reaching the semi-finals of the LG Cup and maintaining his top 16 position. However, over the next few years a number of setbacks resulted in a drop in ranking, and a by 2004/05 a difficult season had fixed Joe’s position at number 40. Nevertheless Joe remained true to form with an impressive performance in the 2005/2006 season which once again returned him to his rightful position within the top 32. He broke a record at the Pontin's International Open Series winning 9 out of 9 qualifying matches. This return to form further emphasised his alternative nickname of the ‘Comeback Kid’!
After finishing only one place short of the top 16 after beating Mark Williams in the first round of the 2007 World Championships, the 2008 tournament at the Crucible had seen Joe narrowly miss entry into the quarter-finals after a tense 13-12 finish against Liang Wenbo which was voted Match of the Year.
Joe is congenitally hearing-impaired, however he has stated that he regards this as an advantage when playing snooker, as he is much less likely to be distracted or put off by noise from the crowds, especially at venues such as the Crucible, where two tables play simultaneously. Away from the snooker table, Joe enjoys spending time with his son Joe, whom he describes as ‘brilliant’. He also enjoys golf and football and is an avid Liverpool FC fan, although as he spends a good deal of time in Manchester you may catch him visiting Old Trafford from time to time watching Manchester United!
The last few years have been quite difficult for him with personal problems and lack of confidence Joe fell off the tour and is now focusing more time doing coaching and exhibitions.Because of his love for the game he entered the PTCs and against all the odds Joe reached the final of the Paul Hunter Classic in Germany winning eight matches beating the likes of Shaun Murphy,Barry Hawkins,Jimmy White and others before losing the big title decider 4-1 to Mark Selby.Due to his run to the final in Germany he is therefore back on the tour for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons and whos to say that he wont make a comeback back into the bigtime again,he has done it before and with new found confidence and attitude to the game Joe is enjoying the game more than ever.