Not for the first time, unfortunately, this is a piece which should’ve been produced weeks ago. Or at the very least in the last seven to ten days. As has often been said here before, however, when under the black cloud that is depression, best laid plans can often be not so much kicked to touch as boot into Row Z of the stand. Now read on…
Thus, while the initial intention was to comment on the various goings on in a number of sports such as darts and horse racing and soccer and rugby and GAA in a bulletin type offering, such has been the delay in getting it done they will all have to get their own separate outings. Possibly even in the form of a podcast if the energy exists to do one. Don’t hold your breath though!
As darts was what occupied most of the thought space when inclinations to begin this production first germinated, let’s start there. Now, some of you will know, others won’t, that Christmas isn’t my favourite time of year. Granted, that viewpoint has altered seismically since my life was blessed with my partner Susan entering it nearly two years ago.
What hasn’t changed, mind you, is that for me the festive season kicks off in earnest when the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) World Championships throw in at the Alexandra Palace in London. There are two different darting organisations – the PDC and the lesser-spotted British Darts Organisation (BDO) – we’ll get back to that in time.
There was a time, not all that long either, when watching paint dry would’ve been considered more appealing than taking in affairs of the arrows. Believe it or not, similar status once applied to horse racing. Thankfully, for the sake of my sanity as well sporting enjoyment and a bit of financial gain along the way, that changed a long time ago.
As is often the case in these situations, in terms of darts it was an instance of stumbling upon it in searching for something while away the time. I’d come across it on television before of course but couldn’t grasp it and had little interest in so doing. Even though Jim Bowen’s memorable quiz show Bullseye was often flicked by when I used to spend most Saturdays with extended family.
At that time we didn’t have ‘all the stations’ at home, so it was a great novelty to be able to see shows such as Big Break, Noel Edmonds House Party and, in particular, Dad’s Army. Until the bigger picture arrived at home, so to speak, Match Of The Day used to be recorded for me on a VHS to be watched at some stage on a Sunday. Depending on whether I’d been out at a match or not.
Whatever about encountering darts almost by accident, there was one factor which often runs through many facets of life. Simply that, even if someone only happens to be a casual observer of a given activity, they will have heard of those who are judged to be the most prominent figures therein.
For example, even if you’ve never placed a bet or seen a race, chances are you’ve heard of Ruby Walsh. Similarly, you wouldn’t have to be an aficionado of soccer to have heard of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. And there are probably plenty who haven’t the foggiest notion about golf but they’ve heard of Tiger Woods.
Transfer the conversation to darts and it almost inevitably goes back to Phil Taylor. The man known as ‘The Power’ – presumably owing to the command he held over the sport for so long. That’s not to say that plenty didn’t try to usurp him over the years. Some top notch players among them too. Men like Denis Priestley, Eric Bristow and, the two whom his jousts with went a long way to hooking me on the sport, Raymond Van Barneveld and Michael Van Gerwen.
Of course, even though it was Rob Cross who ended up derailing what for a long time looked like it was going to be a fairytale swansong for Taylor on the biggest stage of them all, undoubtedly, MVG was the last with whom he had a meaningful rivalry. By the time the Stoke man was ready to fade into the sunset however, the Dutch native had not only assumed control of their personal battles but also taken on an air of invincibility commensurate with if not superseding anything produced by the former kingpin.
However, as has been commented upon in this space quite often in recent times, the veil of seemingly being untouchable has begun to slip. To the extent that his expulsion before the Final wasn’t the earth-shattering shock that it might have been a short time beforehand. In a preview piece I did before the action got underway at the Ally Pally, what was perceived as his vulnerability was well flagged up.
The Snake Finally Bites
Admittedly, those touted as potentially representing a bit of value prior to the off, Gary Anderson and Adrian Lewis, fell out of contention long before the concluding stages. However, at least both players showed flickers of form which bodes well for them with the Premier League only a week away.
Such were the prohibitive nature of the odds offered on Van Gerwen that there was bound to be a bit of value elsewhere in the field. The talented but trouble-prone Gerwyn Price was a merited second favourite but, looking back, somebody who was, to a large extent, ignored in the build up was Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright.
At 12/1 he was definitely overpriced. Having said that, when it’s considered that he very nearly went out very early in the tournament, it was probably understandable that the odds makers weren’t keen on trimming their offering on the Scotsman too much. However, by the time the final against the world’s best came around, gut feeling was that what would be considered an upset was in fact the more likely outcome.
And very quickly once the action did commence, it became obvious that the unlikely had actually become the inevitable. The snake had finally bitten. What will be interesting to see once the league does get going is whether Wright will be able to keep the winning form going and, equally, if MVG can recapture his dominance of old.
It’s fairly indicative of the magnitude of what Fallon Sherrock achieved in being the first lady to win a game at the PDC Championships that her achievements were arguably a bigger story than Wright’s outright win. Then again, she did prove that her defenestration of Ted Evetts was no flash in the pan by ousting Mensur Suljovic.
She initially looked like she was also going to oust Chris Dobey and, even though her valiant effort fell short, it surely demonstrates the newfound status within the game which her achievements have now afforded her that she was announced as one of the Contenders in the forthcoming Premier League as well as several other events around the world.
Furthermore, if ever evidence were required of her growing influence within the game, it surely came by her decision to pull out of the Ladies BDO Championships after the prize money for what is essentially the second tier competition was slashed.
Her defection was obviously a blow to the status of the tournament. That shouldn’t detract from the quality of the fare therein though. Lisa Ashton has long been one of the flag bearers in her sphere, something underlined by the fact that she recently secured a PDC tour card allowing her to compete against the men in events throughout the season.
At this juncture it must be admitted that, however long it took me to get properly hooked on top level darts, any inclination to watch the BDO action was even longer about manifesting itself. Part of the reason for the conversion was that, when living with depression, you are often looking at life through a different lens. In other words, there are times when any sort of activity or distraction assumes added value. As of now, it’d be ventured that baseball is actually the only frontier which wouldn’t be crossed in order to avoid getting sucked under by the black cloud.
Thus, the action at Indigo within the 02 Arena in London came as a very welcome diversion after having the likes of the PDC darts and racing and soccer and rugby to sate the sporting appetite over the Christmas period. However, even without a deficit of entertainment to be negated, there was an added layer of attraction to the post festive fare.
Firstly owing to the strong showing produced on what, with all due respect is an even bigger stage, by some bastions of the BDO such as Dave Parletti, Jim Williams, Wayne Warren and, even in defeat, Ashton. Perhaps eclipsing them all, though, was Mikuru Suzuki. This corner had honestly never heard of the Japanese lady before she came within the width of a wire of defeating James Richardson towards the end of December. However, having been enthralled by her efforts, there was no way I was going to miss her outing in her own domain.
Whatever the Ladies competition lacked in numbers player-wise, there was no dearth of quality on show. As well as Suzuki and Ashton, Lorraine Winstanley and 15-year-old Beau Grieves slung arrows of the highest order and it would be no surprise to see any of them pitch up on television events throughout the season.
While it’s beyond question that the BDO competition doesn’t enjoy the same profile as its counterpart – best evidenced by the paltry prize money in comparison and the sparse crowds attending the event, the present state it finds itself in, with doubts whirling about its mere survival, the current debacle is maybe most disheartening when the quality of player on their ‘books’ is taken into consideration.
Whether that be in terms of some of those named already, former greats from the other side of stage like Andy Hamilton, his fellow veteran Wayne Warren, who deservedly attained the ultimate prize after coming from 2-0 down against fellow Welsh man Williams, or youngsters like Grieves and her peer of comparable quality, Leighton Bennett.
Mention was afforded earlier how in darts, as with any sport, rivalries can and do develop over time between competitors. The most famous ones were fairly well documented earlier. Mind you, in the midst of all the darting action of late, the makings of a new head-to-head between two burgeoning stars of comparable ingenuity on the oche emerged.
What’s more, as has been said about various things over the years, a bit of a local connection always help. In this case, local simply means from Co Meath. For, it’s only in the last few months that the Royal County’s latest sporting local hero Keane Barry came to this writer’s attention. And the rest of the world of sport too I’d venture. Perhaps even within darts itself.
Qualifying to compete at the Ally Pally would have been an extraordinary achievement in itself, but, to perform as commendably as the 16-year-old did against Vincent Van Der Voort was enough evidence of the potential the Duleek lad possesses. Something further underlined by his annexation of both the PDC and BDO World Junior Championships shortly afterwards.
In terms of being the rising star in the game, mind you, the red-headed youngster has stern competition on his hands in the guise of Leighton Bennett. The two have met more than once already and though the Irishman emerged triumphant most recently, the manner in which Bennett put Scott Mitchell under pressure is a fair indicator that there’s not much between the two teenagers.
The unfolding story between the two will be enough to keep this viewer captivated for a long time to come.