Being a writer who primarily works in sport, sometimes you are in the fortunate position of being able to witness happenings at close quarters which can be difficult to put into words.
For yours truly, Kevin Foley’s goal for Meath against Dublin, Padraig Beggy coming from the clouds to win the Epsom Derby aboard Wings Of Eagles and, if one was to nominate an unfortunate instance, that would have to be the Lansdowne Road Riots during the friendly between the Republic of Ireland and England in 1995.
Well tonight, in the comfort of my own office, I bore witness to something that was equally as hard to credit. For yours truly, the sporting year could nearly be decked out like a diary.
January – O’Byrne Cup/Thyestes Chase. February, March, April – National League/Cheltenham/Aintree/Fairyhouse/Punchestown. May: GAA Championships, July – Galway Races, September – Listowel Harvest Festival and then from October on, National Hunt racing and Darts.
Thus it is the latter code which brings you this offering. It is, after all, one of the few sports where age is no barrier to progress or success. That is when devotees manage to convince doubters and detractors that is actually a sport.
Now, at this time, it must be admitted there was a time when the mere thought of watching tungsten throwing would’ve been akin to watching paint drying. Until I was schooled in the ins and outs of the fare by my late uncle, Joe Geoghegan.
Even before becoming properly attuned to the world of doubles, trebles and bullseyes, the name of Phil Taylor was familiar to me. There are standout figures in every sport that even those with no interest in or knowledge of will recognise.
It’s only as you get ‘into’ a sport properly you get to know their rivals and the stories behind the rivalries. With Taylor, that meant Eric Bristow, Dennis Priestly, John Part, Raymond Van Barneveld and Michael Van Gerwen.
When Taylor retired after losing the 2018 World Championship Final to Rob Cross, it was considered that one of the greatest eras in the sport had come to an end. Except this week in Wolverhampton, somebody put a spark to it and the flame flickers again.
Whatever about thinking Taylor could have played on at the highest level for longer, it was generally accepted Van Barneveld had earned the right to gracefully fade into the sunset.
However, like a lot of people who do jobs which necessitate regimented lifestyles, RVB couldn’t hack being retired and approached the oche once more. Who knows what expectations or goals the man himself had in returning.
One thing that there’s no disputing, though, is that, when you’re as good as Barney has been throughout his long and illustrious career, that class never leaves you.
It might be like an old style cement mixer, needing a few revs of a starting handle to get it going but once primed it will purr along nicely. So it has been thus far this week as Barney has looked wonderful in Wolverhampton.
When the man with the siren walk-on defeated Gerwyn Price in the group stages, it was explained away as being down to Price’s profligacy. There’s no doubt the current No. 1 is certainly off colour compared to what he can be, but, remember, darts matches are decided by what each player does with their turn at the oche.
In other words, pinpointing Price’s profligacy doesn’t offer due respect to the brilliance of Van Barneveld. Observers had no option but to acknowledge the brilliance of the returned Dutchman when he emerged from an absolutely brilliant encounter against the equally resurrgent Simon Whitlock.
Generally, when a competitor embarks on an unlikely run of results, there comes a point where you expect their progress to reach a ceiling and plateau. Except sometimes – to paraphrase a certain famous piece of darting commentary – that ceiling gets smashed.
Such as when Wrexham put Arsenal out of the FA Cup, Falllon Sherrock becoming the first woman to win a match at the World Championships or Japan beating South Africa at the Rugby World Cup. Yet last night’s action at the Grand Slam of darts trumps any of them – for now at least.
Consider that Barney was gone, had exited stage, couldn’t hack and what’s more didn’t want it anymore. So for him to come back, work his way through the notoriously trappy Q School and be in the Grand Slam was monumental in itself. Then, to defeat Price in the group stages would have endorsement enough of his decision to return.
But the Dutch legend went further than that on Friday night, much further. And if you’re going to do something special, why not make it as dramatic as possible when you’re at it? Not that it would have been on RVB’s agenda to fall 2-8 in arrears to the defending champion in this event.
The thing is though, while Price had obviously put together a sensational spell of his own to eek out such an advantage for himself, there have been frailties obvious on and off in his game during the season too. Hence how, as is so often the case in sport, momentum ended up being the deciding factor.
From trailing by five, the 55-year-old completely to a total grip on proceedings, going from 5-9 adrift to lead by 11 to 9. Yes, Price did rally commendably but every time the Welsh dragon motioned to roar, the Barney Army shouted him down and lifted their man over the line. Except they were cushioning their man rather than lifting as Barney hit heights not scaled by him for nearly a decade.
Seeing was believing except you couldn’t believe what you were seeing. In his post-match interview, the player was fulsome in his believe that he could win the tournament out. I’ve yet to see a reason to doubt him this week.