‘Yer Man’ gets a taste of grassroots darts
“One hundred and eighty!” called the scorekeeper as I stepped forward to recover my three darts from the board.
Unfortunately the celebratory cry to mark a three-dart maximum was directed at another player on a different board. I’d hit an altogether less impressive score of 26.
On Saturday I took part in the Jubilee Cup darts tournament in Lurgan Institute.
This was my first competitive darts outing and my first taster of the grassroots level of the sport.
In pubs and social clubs up and down the country every week, darts players take to the oche in Northern Ireland’s dart leagues.
Darts is one of the most social sports you’re likely to find. Given the intake of alcohol by many of its participants I can understand why some people frown upon darts as a sport. However, I saw no evidence on Saturday of the beer hampering anyone’s throwing. On the contrary, some players told me that they always played better having indulged in a pint to steady them before taking aim.
On Saturday, 32 competitors were vying for the top prize of £400 and the Jubilee Cup. Every player was guaranteed three matches at the group stages with the top two in each group proceeding to the final 16.
I didn’t have any serious notions on taking home the trophy, instead I set myself the twin goals of hitting a few trebles and giving myself at least one shot at a double to finish.
I’m pleased to report I achieved both. My top score was 140 - scored unconventionally with a treble 20 and two double 20s. Better still, during my first match against Jonathan Bunting, I nicked the first leg with a double 16 finish. I felt bad for Jonathan, son of Fred Bunting, formerly of Morton newspapers and himself a former Institute darts champion. Jonathan is a lot better player than me but my erratic darts seemed to bring him down to my level or perhaps he was just intimidated by the fact I bear a resemblance to darts’ hottest property Michael van Gerwen. As it happened I had a chance to win the match but missed another double 16 and Jonathan took out double 2 to leave the result a 1-1 draw.
I got pulverised by Sam Mein of Royal British Legion (Dungannon) in my next game and in my last match against Institute’s Gordy Jackson I had a chance in the second leg to salvage a draw, but couldn’t find the finish when faced with first double 11 and then double 7. Both matches finished in 2-0 wins for my opponents.
Sam and Gordy went forward from my group into the last 16, but other groups weren’t as clear cut with a three-way 501 shoot out required after three players in one group finished on four points.
As the competition progressed the standard got noticeably higher with players bringing out the best in each other and 100+ scores featuring with a lot more regularity.
Two players - Darren Carson and Kyle McKinstry, both of Royal British Legion (Dungannon) weighed in with 13 dart legs while Sam Mein took the prize for highest checkout (135) which he donated to the Race for Life charity.
The Lurgan interest was carried into the knock-out stages by Neil Higginson who, backed by the home crowd, made it all the way to the final where he met Sam Mein, the man who’d given me a darting lesson at the group stages.
Just one leg separated the finalists with Sam overcoming his young adversary by a 5-4 scoreline to take the top prize of £400 and the Jubilee Cup.
It was clear that a lot of work had gone on behind the scenes to make this tournament the success that it was. The club can be proud of their efforts and the generosity of the sponsors played a big part in attracting such a good field of players to Lurgan.
The sponsors included Brownlow House Tea Rooms, The Beautiful Game Lurgan, Orchard Ground Equipment, Institute FC, Dougies Fruit and Veg, DL Taxis, Roger Allen of Allen Logistics and Gilkinsons Traditional Fish and Chips.
Donations on the day helped raise £200 for Meningitis Trust.
The difference between players who have become household names like Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld and those taking part in the Jubilee Cup is simple. Practice and sponsorship.
Practice is something that is down to the individual with darts being no different to any other sport in that the better players are the more dedicated players.
But to make it into the elite - the PDC - a player needs financial backing. Sponsorship allows players to enter more tournaments, gain more experience and as the prize money begins to come in, then the opportunity to turn professional becomes a very real one.
That’s not to say everyone who picks up a set of darts could under the right conditions end up playing on Sky Sports on a Thursday night. Temperament is also an essential quality.
As for me, I’m sticking with my day job, unless an opportunity presents itself as a Michael van Gerwen look-a-like.