Ken Doherty is “over the moon” to be back in Sheffield for the Betfred.com World Championship after twice sampling the pain of missing out.
The 42-year-old Dubliner triumphed at the Crucible in 1997 and was runner-up both a year later and in 2003.
He starts his latest campaign against Australia’s 2010 world champion Neil Robertson on Saturday afternoon, and after failing to qualify in 2009 and last year, Doherty is taking particular satisfaction at earning his place on merit.
The pleasure was made all the more great by the fact he was on the brink of losing to Anthony Hamilton in the final qualifying round last Saturday, when Hamilton led 52-12 in a deciding frame.
Doherty produced a sparkling 62 break, and he described the feeling of coming through that close shave as “absolutely beautiful”.
He said: “I’d more or less resigned myself to losing. There was so much at stake. To come through like that with a great clearance was fantastic. I’ve missed it for two of the last three years, so to be back is great. I’m over the moon.”
Doherty has carved out a media career as a sideline to his snooker, working on Irish radio and BBC television.
But his heart is in snooker, and he told Press Association Sport: “Playing is my priority. If I’m not there, I’d be watching at home on TV anyway. I might as well be there.
“I love being around the game and if I’m not playing I still love being around.
“I enjoy the BBC work but my priority is to keep playing as long as I can, and as long as I can play to a standard.
“I’m not going to be as consistent as I was, but you look at Peter Ebdon, he shocked the world winning the China Open a couple of weeks ago so it is possible.
“The most important thing is that as long as I’m enjoying it, and I’m still competitive, I’m going to keep playing, of course I am.”
With age, Doherty recognises his game is not quite as strong as it once was.
“I think you lose your concentration slightly – that’s about it – but you don’t lose your desire, you don’t lose your hunger,” he said.
“You look at the likes of Jimmy White and Steve Davis – they still have the hunger and love to play, and I’m the same.”
White and Davis both lost in the penultimate qualifying round this year, but Doherty was joined in coming through the nerve-wracking stage by seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry. Hendry takes on Stuart Bingham on the other side of the curtain from the Doherty-Robertson match tomorrow afternoon.
Saturday morning also sees defending champion John Higgins begin his bid to win a fifth Crucible title when the Scot plays China’s Liang Wenbo, while Martin Gould plays David Gilbert.
Higgins and Liang finish off their match in the evening, when Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen and China’s Cao Yupeng get under way