Every sport has an iconic figure, most sports have a collection of them indeed. In Ireland, we are particularly blessed. Every GAA team has at least one. Whether it be Colm Cooper, Henry Shefflin, Michael Murphy or that one standout player on every team in the country that people aspire to be.
Of course, there are participants of similar status in other sports too. Rory McIlroy has the golfing world dancing his tune. With Racing we have numerous outstanding performers in their code such as Ruby Walsh, Paul and Nina Carberry, Barry Geraghty and Davy Russell over jumps. On the level, their excellence is matched by that of people like Joseph O’Brien, Pat Smullen, Johnny Murtagh, Declan McDonogh and Kevin Manning. That’s without even mentioning trainers.
Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll, for now at least, still enjoy similar roles on the rugby scene while Richard Dunne must surely be acknowledged as the standout figure among the soccer fraternity now that Shay Given has departed the scene and Robbie Keane’s best days are clearly well behind him.
So to Darts. Yours truly only became really ‘into’ it in the last couple of years but, even when totally clueless about the sport, the one name I – and it’s suspected many in a similar position – knew was that of Phil Taylor. Over time, more has been learned about others like Jocky Wilson and Eric Bristow, but, for a long time, Taylor was the best player seen during my lifetime.
Until more recent years, that is. Others like James Wade, Raymond Van Barneveld and the seemingly ever luckless Simon Whitlock have closed the gap on ‘The Power’ and, of course, Adrian Lewis has actually usurped him in the last couple of seasons. That hasn’t gone down too well with Taylor and moreover it has highlighted a far less likable side of him. Frankly, he comes across as a bad loser and a bit of a grouch.
Or at least that would’ve been the sum total of feelings about him until Christmas just gone. Outside of Taylor, the late Sid Waddell would’ve been than one character that those who know little or nothing about darts or have no interest therein would’ve heard of. When you consider that Sid never actually threw a dart himself, it gives a fair indication of the profile he attained therein and the impact he had thereon.
Sid sadly passed away last August and thereafter the commendable decision was taken, presumably by the PDC, to put up a new trophy for the 2013 World Championships and name it in honour of Sid. As it happened, Taylor ended up being a very fitting first recipient of the Sid Waddell Trophy. But unfortunately, some of Taylor’s behaviour during the Championship left a very sour aftertaste. More importantly, it did nothing to honour the memory of the man who the trophy commemorates.
Before getting into all that, though, it must be said that, for this corner at least, the definition of these Championships was Double Dutch! It was during the round of the Premier League that took place in Dublin last year that yours truly really first took note of Van Barneveld. Not only because the majority of the audience in the O2 became a green Barney Army for the night, but, as well because he was the most exciting and entertaining to watch.
Until his younger compatriot was seen, that is. Michael Van Gerwen is to darts what McIlroy has been to golf. Maybe a better comparison still would be with Kilkenny hurler Walter Walsh. MVG may have been around for a bit a bit, but, it was only during what was supposedly the summer of 2012 – when he made a nine darter look like child’s play in the World Matchplay that he announced himself. Similarly, Walsh was given his bow when pitched into the All Ireland Final by Brian Cody. He duly helped himself to 1-3 from play, set up two more scores and bagged the Man of the Match gong.
Van Gerwen has been eye catching for many reasons. From his appearance, to the fact that he always wears green. Guys that throw at speed are better to watch too. But most importantly, he’s damn good! So much so that my near 83-year-old father, who’d never watched darts in his life, was an avid MVG fan by the end of Christmas!
For all that, though, a few euro was speculated on Van Barneveld before the event started. Simply because the 20/1 odds were ridiculously big. It looked like great value too as a rejuvenated RVB played some great stuff throughout the tournament until such times as he encountered Taylor.
Which brings us back to the matter of the latter’s behaviour. Before that, it must be said his opponent initially froze. ‘The Power’ had fluctuated between looking very poor in parts to the outstanding display he put up against Andy Hamilton. RVB’s slowness from the stalls gave Taylor momentum which – despite a heroic retrieval effort by the Dutchman – wasn’t relinquished.
It was the victor’s behaviour at the end thereof that caused all the stir. As far as could be ascertained, Van Barneveld went to hug Taylor in congratulation at the end of the match, only to be swatted away and treated ignorantly and insultingly. Apart from showing Taylor in a very poor – bad sadly not surprising – light, it did nothing for the reputation of the sport or to honour the memory of Sid Waddell.
All of which leads to the final point to be made, for now. There are those who decree that darts is not a sport at all. Not a theory I could subscribe to for a moment. Any activity that people engage in for recreation, and which has skill to it and which requires practice and dedication is a sport! People wouldn’t do it professionally if it wasn’t.
Granted, the appearance of some of the participants therein wouldn’t exactly give off a sporting aura. But the speed and skill of MVG is an ample antidote to that. His explosive start as he raced into a four sets to two lead was breathtaking and though Taylor showed admirable character and skill to recover and eventually win comfortably, his opponent was the one most people were talking about. Surely a king awaiting coronation.