Style goes out the window if substance speaks for itself

What is a scary number of years ago now, Meath played Laois in the first round of the Leinster SFC at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise. Sean Boylan’s side won the game in a canter, but what stands out, even now, was the sending off of Colm Coyle. Or more accurately, the reaction of sections of the crowd to same.

“Typical Meath, ye’d never win anything if it wasn’t for dirt” came one salvo. To which my normally placid, reserved father riposted “If your lot had a bit in them ye might win something”! The Meath team of 1986 to 1991 was as good a combination as ever performed in unison. To my mind comparable with the storied Kerry and Dublin combinations of the 1970s.

Yet they never received the same commendation as teams of similar ilk because the naysayers and do-gooders didn’t like the way they went about their business. Actually, it would be more in line to say the manner in which they were perceived as so doing.

Gerwyn Price would surely understand. The Welsh man has had a pretty unique sporting career thus far. And the sense is that the best thereof might still be ahead. ‘The Iceman’ is a former dual player in rugby – that is to say he lined out in both Rugby Union and its League equivalent – seemingly with considerable success too.

He has been similarly noteworthy since ‘converting’ to be a professional in darts. Not always for positive reasons either. Akin to the Meath team of old, there are those who do not like the way in which he goes about his business. This corner would’ve been firmly in that category until a while ago.

However, the argument about style goes out the window if substance speaks for itself. In one instance referred to above, that particular battalion of Royal County warriors delivered the most successful period in our county’s GAA history and in Price’s case his play on the dart board has been so improved and productive in recent times that it rendered discussions about his on-floor antics futile.

You may recall that he was vilified – and rightly so – for his behaviour in the final of last season’s Grand Slam against Gary Anderson. An occasion that was overshadowed to a great degree by the victor’s constant goading of the Scotsman during the contest. Now, retribution was meted out to ‘Gezzy’ in the aftermath thereof – in the form of a hefty fine – but in fairness to him, he’s been letting his darts do the talking in the interim.

The old adage about horses for courses can be deployed in many facets of life and in this case it appears that the structure of the Grand Slam suits the now two-time champion to a tee. That is to say, the idea of having three guaranteed games in a group format before things go on to knockout play.

Not all that long ago, mention was afforded to the Grand Prix competition in affairs of the arrows. Therein applies a unique set of parameters whereby each leg must be started by participants hitting a double as distinct from ‘routine’ tournaments where they can toss the tungsten anywhere to begin.

With the Grand Slam, as outlined, the group phase gives the event its own special characteristic. Something similar to what’s seen in the Champions League Of Darts. Non aficionados would surely consider some of the variation of method as consigning affairs to the Michael Mouse department.

However, to those of us who find the intricate test of hand-eye co-ordination intriguing – not to mention an essential part of negotiating the trappy winter months – there can’t be enough of it available for viewing. Each tournament has its own unique setup and what gives the Grand Slam a streak of uniqueness is the fact that men and women compete as equals.

Indeed, darts is one of the few disciplines where such can occur and as the displays of Lisa Ashton and Mikuru Suzuki ably demonstrated. Cynics will doubtless point out that neither of the ladies managed to win a game but to focus on that is to miss the significance of their being there entirely.

It’s often been said that momentum can be the biggest game changer in sport and in something like the Grand Slam that becomes especially prevalent. On one hand, it affords members of the British Darts Organisation (BDO) an opportunity to show they can compete on a par with the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) people. And, in another way, the fact participants can potentially lose a match and still progress should they get themselves back on track.

Both of the above factors were very much in evidence too. As firstly bastions of the BDO such as Richard Veenstra and Wesley Harms and indeed Ashton more than proved their worth. While, regarding the other factor mentioned, the manner in which things proceed obviously plays to the strength of price in particular.

Another, mind you, who deserves special mention having enjoyed a relatively successful week in Wolverhampton is ‘The German Giant’ Gabriel Clemens. I’ll admit to never having heard of the man mountain before the latest televised event but his will be most certainly be a name worth keeping an eye on as the season’s showpiece at the Alexandra Palace looms on the horizon.

Now, during the week the Grand Slam was taking place, Liverpool took on Manchester City in the Premiership. In the build up to same, yours truly made the point that, even by their own standards, Sky had gone to ridiculous levels in their over-hyping of what was an ordinary League game at a relatively early stage in the season.

However, where the hysteria would’ve been wholly merited – and it was actually surprising there wasn’t more thereof – was before the meeting of Gerwyn Price and Gary Anderson. Reference was made earlier to the tempestuous mature of the meeting between the two in the final of the same competition last year.

So wasn’t it nearly fate that there paths would cross again? It could nearly have been predicted, too, that after all the brouhaha surrounding what might happen between the two that there wasn’t a whimper this time around. Apart, that is, from the Welshman asserting his current upper hand over his adversary.

His so doing was another demonstration of his burgeoning status within the ranks of the arrowsmiths. Something underlined by the fact that, en route to defending his title, he conquered not only Anderson but also Michael Van Gerwen and Peter Wright. His defeat of the latter in the final being the best display this writer or many more seasoned observers witnessed the man from the valleys deliver in his career to date.

You’d have to feel a bit sorry for Scotland’s Wright at this stage. His career is beginning to resemble that of the Australian Simon Whitlock. That is to say, somebody who is serially in contention but very seldom gets the job done. In fairness to the former of the pair mentioned most recently, he did win one of the televised ‘majors’ not all that long ago but it’s hard to escape the feeling should still have a few more of them under his belt.

Be that as it may, he of the unforgettable hairstyles will still be among the top contenders when the commencement of the centrepiece of the darting year makes the festive season just a little more palatable. He’s likely to be joined in that bracket by Anderson, Dave Chisnall, Rob Cross and James Wade.

Logic would suggest they all have big work on to dislodge Van Gerwen. Though, as has been mentioned here previously, the air of infallibility has definitely slipped from the Dutchman over the last while. Price is a deserving second favourite at 5/1, while, knowing the way Cross has produced his best form in the past at the Ally Pally 12/1 might end up looking decidedly generous.

From a punting perspective, with something like darts, the trick is to find betting firms offering a little bit of extra value. Only offering each way odds on who’ll make the final looks extremely skimpy and if there are any firms offering better terms Adrian Lewis might represent a bit of value.

You don’t become a bad player overnight. Especially somebody who, like ‘Jackpot’ has won the World Championship twice. There have been signs of late that the Stoke man may be finding a bit of form at just the right time and it’d be no surprise to see him significantly outplay his current odds of 80/1.

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