A week for breakthroughs and re-affirmation

If you’ve perused content in this space over the past week or so, you’ll know – it’s no secret – that yours truly has been playing against the wind for several reasons.

Without doubt the most difficult knock-on effect of the latest stint in sickbay was missing Dunboyne’s historic completion of a three in a row in the Meath Ladies SFC. Though as was alluded to in this space extensively in this space earlier, thanks to the advent of modern technology, not a kick of the ball was missed during that momentous occasion.

However, when County Final fixtures start appearing on the horizon, it is signpost enough that a very important part of the sporting year for the occupant of this seat is at the very least in wind down mode. That said, hope would be that our magnificent ladies will be able to stave off the onset of ‘proper’ winter for a while yet.

Mind you, one of the benefits of being non-prejudicial about sport – in other words being possessed of the inclination to watch almost anything (bar baseball) there’s always something afoot to keep the mind occupied and the keyboard tapping away. Thus, in recent weeks, American Football has played its part, so too rugby and soccer and the adverts for the imminent return of the NBA.

For me though, the real seal being put on the dark nights being in arrives when Darts appears back on the television screen. Usually in the guise of the World Grand Prix. As was also the case with the Meath Ladies SFC Final, I can’t understand why there was a venue change with the Grand Prix this year.

That it was based in the UK during all the Covid-19 mallarkey who wholly understandable, but, I would have thought it would have been returned to the City West in Dublin once all the restrictions were lifted.

Anyway, even in Leicester, it was still a wonderful week’s entertainment. A week of breakthroughs, relatively speaking, though one which concluded with an emphatic re-affirmation of just what a potent force Michael Van Gerwen remains in the tungsten throwing.

In terms of breakthroughs, Nathan Aspinall might seem an odd inclusion here, but in terms of getting close to winning another major television title it was surely the closest The Asp has come to adding to the 2019 UK Open

Nathan Aspinall isn’t far off another Major title

Made all the more noteworthy by the fact that he not only defeated current World Champion Peter Wright and former kingpin Gerwyn Price, but also the manner in which the victories were achieved.

Before getting to either of those however, we must go back to his quarter final dispatch of Martin Lukeman. If you want to to talk about a breakthrough, look no further than the latter.

With no disrespect intended, for a player like Lukeman to be even in the tournament, let alone progress in it as far as he did, was noteworthy and commendable in itself, but, given the level of performance Lukeman produced, he who is the absolute spit of chef Tom Kerridge seems certain to become a more familiar face.

TV Breakthrough: Martin Lukeman

Elsewhere, while neither of the following would qualify as breakthroughs, the efforts put up by both Andrew Gilding and, in particular, Adrian Lewis, deserve honourable mention.

However, at that this point there is a need for this writer to back the tractor up a bit. For those not au fait with affairs of the arrows, the Grand Prix is a unique event on the darting schedule owing to the fact that it’s formatted completely differently to any other event on the calendar. And is one of only two tournaments in the sport – the other being the World Championship – which utilises the Sets system rather than just straight legs.

Most significantly, though, is that the GP is run off using the ‘Double In’ method. In other words, whereas in any and every other tournament, players can basically start the turn by pegging their triumvirate of arrows anywhere, in the Grand Prix, each trip to the oche must be commenced by hitting a Double.

In a regular event doubles are of course needed to decide the winner of individual legs. As they are here too. But you’d imagine the top professionals in the game would have no bother making the once-a-year adjustment to starting the same way? Think again.

Again, whilst in no way seeking to besmirch the lesser known competitors in the game, there’s no doubt that the inaccuracy of some of the big hitters therein under this regime played into the hands of their opponents.

Having said that, looking at the performances of Aspinall, Lewis, Wright and – in particular – Michael Van Gerwen and their adeptness at doubling in, it would lead you to wonder how some of the others are so bad at it.

Nonetheless, the week-long barrage of arrow slinging entertainment certainly acted as a re-affirmation of MVG’s vaunted status within the game. As if it were needed. There has been a train of thought peddled within Darts for some time that Mighty Mike wasn’t the force of old. Only for Wayne Mardle to mention in commentary that he’d won something like 15 titles within the last year.

If this most recent event was him supposedly off form, may God help his contemporaries if he’s ever back on it!

Sadly, from the viewpoint of an ardent Gary Anderson fan, such is the manner in which the Flying Scotsman’s game fluctuates these days, defeating him isn’t the best metric by which to judge a player’s form.

Thus, when the Dutchman merely grinded through the gears to bypass Stephen Bunting in the second round, it was considered he was still only a pale shadow of his former self.

Such a synopsis would be needlessly unfair to the talented but often luckless Stephen Bunting. When Peter Griffin’s real life Doppleganger burst onto the PDC scene, it appeared his transition from the BDO was going to be seemless.

Naturally however, things don’t exactly go as they seem, but that doesn’t automatically mean the player has lost his ‘game’ altogether. On the night in question, ‘The Bullet’ was on a going night and as a result his opponent had to be at his sharpest to withstand the shrapnel.

Similar comments can be appended to his quarter final dispatch of Chris Dobey. ‘Hollywood’ himself having looking quite impressive up to that point.

MVG re-united with a trophy he knows well

In the lead up to their semi final clash, the war of words between Van Gerwen and Peter Wright was an unnecessary sideshow. It’s not the first time there’s been sparks between the two.

‘Snakebite’ having more or less sneered at his opponent’s acumen at his profession prior to their first televised collision what’s probably nearly a decade ago now.

Whatever verbal horse trading went on before their most recent face-off, it was at least a relief to see that a percentage of it was only hot air and mind games because once Russ Bray called “Game On” the respect between the two rivals was obvious. Respect is all well and good but where it really counted – on the scoreboard – the Green Machine had it surprisingly easy against the colourful Scot.

That sometimes happens in rivalries though. For all the close encounters there may be between two combatants who know each other intrinsically every so often their will be a blow-out favouring one side or the other. So it was on this occasion that the bald blitzer got by his old foe, only dropping one leg in the process.

On the other side of the draw, as alluded to earlier, Nathan Aspinall made incremental progress throughout the week and looked to have reached the pinnacle thereof by the time of his semi final encounter with Gerwyn Price.

Except again he found another gear when tackling the former World Champion. It could be argued, with validity, that The Iceman has been a shade out of sorts in recent times. For a variety of reasons.

He certainly looked it when Aspinall raced into a 3-0 lead in sets. Sometimes though, poking the bear can a very ill-advised thing. When Price roared back – literally – taking the score to 3-2, it appeared it would be the dragon doing the slaying.

Instead, Aspinall gathered himself together again andm took out the final set. Yielding for himself a place in the final which his quality during the week thoroughly deserved.

However, a little under 24 hours later, the boot was very much on the other foot as a rejuvenated Van Gerwen raced into a 4-0 lead which must have had his opponent in a tailspin.

To his credit, though, the man in the red corner, he agsin stepped up to the plate and rallied brilliantly to 5-3 but, ultimately had left himself too much of a deficit to haul back.

Still, between MVG being back on form and others advertising their own credentials, it should make for a very entertaining winter.

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