Working class heroes still have a space


One of the many consequences of the better prevailing economic conditions prior to 2008 was that – to some degree at least – the simple things which to that point had been staples of life for so long were foregone as (admittedly some) sought and indeed splashed out for the more lavish option.

Though publicly ridiculed for opining so at the time, I remain unmoved in my belief that agricultural jobs slipped down the pecking order in terms of popularity as construction, IT and pharmaceutical positions – to name but a mere few – took precedence with those seeking employment. Money talks. But then, the wheel is always guaranteed to turn back the other way at some point.

There was a similar shift socially too. The vision of the idyllic country – or city – type hostelries were impinged upon by the phenomenon of the ‘Super Pub’. Therein, dart boards and ring boards and pool tables and games of cards gave way to a multiplicity of plasma screen televisions, verbose sound systems, wi-fi points and all forms of modern gadgetry.

As, all the while, many a small country establishment was forced to call last orders for the final time. However, it must be true that there’s strength in adversity. Just as in the mid to late 80s – when things are also arduous yet Croke Park remained thronged for Meath’s glories of the time – as times again got tough, the old pub sports once more gained a surge in popularity.

Billy Keane, son if the great John B and consummate wordsmith in his own right, recently stated that he considers marbles a sport. Now, even this corner wouldn’t, it’s felt, stretch that far. A vehement defence would, does regularly have to be, and always will be, launched in the case or darts.

There are those who say it’s not a sport at all. To me, that’s nonsense and a shade disrespectful. Just think, darts take every bit as much skill and commitment as, say, snooker or table tennis or archery or fencing. Maybe more in some cases. And, as usual, the selected are but examples of which there are myriad.

Basing derision for darts on the appearance of its competitors is not only unfair, it’s hurtful. If anything, affairs of the oche are laudable for the inclusivity. In an era where hurling and rugby and basketball have been, shall we say, adapted thus it’s indicative of the popularity of the arrows that there are also wheelchair darts. Stand behind a considerable shelter before giving yours truly missiles, mind you!

It is true to say that – in many places – the monetary misgivings of recent times has seen a resurgence in the appeal of tungsten thrills. Coincidence or not, who knows. Or what does it matter. What can be vouched for is that teams were formed in establishments where previously there were none and district dart leagues in many places experienced a rejuvenation in popularity.

All because, to some extent, even the best in the game are ordinary folk. Michael Van Gerwen was a tiler before checking out to fame. Phil Taylor a fitter in a factory. There’s something reassuring in that. In a world where a growing number of sports revolve around insane amounts of money and the connection between patron and protagonist is as flimsy as that concerning cows and bank holidays, darts demonstrates that the working class hero still has a space.

Doubtless, eyes will roll in some places at the oft peddled line about a local connection – no matter how tenuous – to anything increasing the intrigue thereof. Against that, if it’s genuine and relevant, why not? Anyway, the local connection to the most recent World Darts Championship needed no artificial embellishment as Meath’s Mick McGowan won through the preliminary round before going under to the enigmatic but highly talented Mark Webster of Wales.

Admittedly, it’s only in recent times that the Duleek man surfaced on my sporting radar. Only natural, you might think, given the time of year. He has, though, been on the professional darting circuit for some time – transferring from the BDO to the better class PDC – and has shown remarkable resilience after his career hit a decidedly rough patch to qualify for the showpiece Alexandra Palace event. You’d hope said appearance could be the kick start for a further resurgence.

With some sports, dubbing events therein as World Championships is a nonsense. Baseball and basketball, look away now. Stoke in England appears to be a particular hotbed – counting Taylor and Adrian Lewis – among others as locals. There are good players all over the globe now, with Holland evidently a super efficient producer of talented throwers.

Yet, for all the new emerging talent, there has been something for the sporting romantic in the upsurge in Gary Anderson’s career. The Scot was a builder before attaining greatness at the dartboard. His eventual arrival at the sport’s summit in 2014 – ironically at the 14th attempt – was glorious proof that perseverance does pay.

Winning the top gong in anything signposts serious talent, retaining it signals something even better. This is Anderson’s time. And there’s no sign of it ending.



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