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Darts star Gurney eager to play in front of fans once more after dealing with difficult lockdown period


Daryl Gurney

Daryl Gurney

Daryl Gurney

The top stair isn't an ideal oche. Worse still when the board is hanging on the back of your bedroom door and you have to pocket your darts every time someone in the house needs to use the bathroom.

While it may make do for most of us, it's hardly a setting befitting of a man with two major titles and currently ranked the 11th best player in the world.

Londonderry's Daryl Gurney, therefore, is likely more thankful than most to return to something like normality as 1,000 fans prepare to spread themselves around the Alexandra Palace when the World Championships begin next week.

That humble home set-up prevented the 34-year-old from being involved in the PDC's Home Tour when lockdown first struck, opting instead to devote as much time as possible to his young son Daryl Jr with his partner Aine a front-line worker.

While he's had his moments since making a return, such as denying world number one Michael van Gerwen a place in the Premier League play-offs back in September, he's felt something amiss.

"We all play on adrenaline and play feeding off the crowd, I know I certainly do," he says. "So with nobody there, you're missing that incentive.

"I wouldn't be one for giving it large to an empty room anyway. When you're playing and you're in front of a crowd, it's your supporters and the supporters of an opponent, so whether you're looking to give your fans something to shout about or to shut up the other guy's fans, there's always something.

"I've not been playing well without them, that's for sure.

"So to have 1,000 fans in, knowing they'll sound like three or four thousand too, I can't wait.

"It's December, it's darts, whether you're a fan or not, you can't avoid it and there's a buzz off that."

All those added eyeballs have their drawbacks, though.

As social media becomes an increasingly ubiquitous part of everyday life, somewhere along the way a minority given a voice by the medium have decreed that the implorations to be kind in these most trying of times don't apply to celebrities and sports stars.

In America last month, Green Bay Packers wide-receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling revealed he had been subjected to death threats after a game-changing fumble while closer to home Ulster and Ireland's Jacob Stockdale has stepped away from Twitter thanks to the levels of abuse sent his way.

Darts, it seems, has to deal with an outsized share of the problem, its popularity as a televised sport and association with gambling no doubt contributing factors.

Earlier this year, Rob Cross quit social media after death threats while Gurney's manager Matt Ward took to Gurney's profile with 37.5k followers back in July to rally against those who had wished harm on the player's family following a defeat to Vincent van der Voort.

To scroll through Gurney's timeline is a sobering experience. A player who has adopted 'Superchin' as a moniker is able to treat the frequent Desperate Dan and Jimmy Hill taunts like water off a duck's back, while the boasts from those sat on the sofa that they could do a better job than a top-end professional can be given the short shrift they deserve.

The more vulgar and offensive entries are arresting in their frequency though, not to mention the unsettling instruction to 'watch your back.'

"The God's honest truth is that I make a point to never look at it in my life," Gurney says. "It's always my manager.

"You'll get players and they'll be on it as soon as they wake up and the first thing that you see is all these nasty messages.

"At the end of the day, I just thought, 'it's an app, delete it, don't log on'. People will be on my account to look and they'll tell me about it but that's it. Because I know if I was reading it more, it would definitely affect me so I don't bother.

"It's an abusive platform, social media. It's just for people to get at people, and there are some nasty people out there.

"The bottom line is, they've probably put a bet on and lost a few pounds.

"I remember when I started and Wes Newton was four or five in the world and the abuse that he was getting, it was unbelievable.

"Seeing some of that, what he showed to me, I remember thinking 'I'll never be on Twitter in my life.' 

"It played a real part in the downfall of his career, though he's making a comeback now, and I remember saying to him 'where is this coming from?'

"When he said Twitter, I told him to just turn it off. He was a superstar at this stage but I was trying to give him advice I suppose.

"People were getting at him and it was affecting him in a big way and I knew it wasn't something I needed in my life."

When it comes to taking critique on his form, Gurney is happy to listen instead to his father, the man who first introduced him to the game back when he was 12-years-old and ferried him to competitions around the north west back in the days when his greatest playing rivals were road-racing superstar Joey Dunlop's sons Gary and Ricky.

"Well, if you know any Gurneys down around here, they wouldn't be one for sugar-coating, they'll tell you how it is," he laughs.

"So my Dad, he tells me now when I'm playing well and he'll be the first one to tell me to pull the finger out or get between the ears sorted because in darts, that's 90 percent where things are won and lost."

Never more so at the World Championships where Gurney, who could be set for an all-Ireland clash with Limerick's Willie O'Connor in the second-round, has his best finish as a quarter finalist back in 2017.

Ahead of this year's competition, he strikes the balance between serene and determined.

"I've been playing for seven years, if it went wrong tomorrow for me and I couldn't throw another dart, I could come home tomorrow and be a plumber again," he says.

"I don't need very much. I wouldn't be out buying fancy stuff or anything like that there.

"What I want is to make sure that my son's future is taken care of, if he has to go to university or something like that, that's me happy. Everything I make will be left to him.

"But as far as motivation, I'm still just as determined.

"Me and the Worlds? I don't think we get on well to be honest.

"Normally I'm playing well in the first game and then throwing like a turkey for the second. There's been missed opportunities but one of these years it'll click and if it takes me another 20 years, then one is all I need.

"If it's not this year, I'll come home, I'll have Christmas... and I'll switch off and not watch the rest of it."

And certainly not check his phone.

Belfast Telegraph