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Daryl Gurney: Baby joy reason I've hit bullseye

 

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Daryl at the double: Doting dad and recently crowned Players' Championship winner Daryl Gurney with his son, Daryl Jnr

Daryl at the double: Doting dad and recently crowned Players' Championship winner Daryl Gurney with his son, Daryl Jnr

The NI darts ace shows off the Players' Championship trophy

The NI darts ace shows off the Players' Championship trophy

LAWRENCE LUSTIG

Daryl at the double: Doting dad and recently crowned Players' Championship winner Daryl Gurney with his son, Daryl Jnr

Daryl Gurney has fired himself right into the World Championship mix after arriving home this week £100,000 better off thanks to his triumph over top dog Michael van Gerwen in the final of the Players Championship in Minehead - and puts his success down to the arrival of baby son Daryl Junior.

Proud dad Daryl had been struggling for form earlier in the season but turned things around in spectacular fashion to beat the Dutch master in a thrilling final - finishing with a bullseye - a victory that puts the Londonderry arrow ace right up among the favourites to win the £2.5m World Championship, which gets under way at Alexandra Palace in London on Thursday week.

Gurney made the big breakthrough when he won last year's World Grand Prix in Dublin but the 13 months between that massive victory and last weekend's Players Championship glory haven't been plain sailing.

"I seemed to lose a bit of confidence earlier this season. I was missing doubles, practice wasn't going great. Half way through this year I thought that my career was over," explained the 32-year-old.

But the birth of Daryl Junior on April 5 transformed the doting dad.

"Daryl Junior was born just before I was due to play a Premier League match so I basically went from the hospital to the arena and played my match after about an hour's sleep," he said.

Junior has totally altered Daryl's darting life - for the better.

"I used to do most of my practising at home late at night but that's out now because wee Daryl usually goes to sleep about 7.30," he explained.

"That means I either have to practice earlier or else nip down the road to my parents' house for late night practice. But the new regime seems to be working!" said Gurney, who was a plumber before taking up darts full-time last year.

It had always been Gurney's dream to be a full-time professional but he admits it has been harder work than the plumbing.

"I have always worked with my hands, whether it was plumbing or other bits and pieces. I have been in work since I was 16 so the last year has seen a lot of changes both on the job front and then with wee Daryl coming along," said the man known in the darting world as Superchin.

The major change at next month's World Championship is the inclusion of women in the main draw for the first time, with Lisa Ashton and Anastasia Dobromyslova taking on the men.

Gurney feels it is a progressive move by darts chiefs but admits to being relieved at having steered clear of either woman in the draw.

"It's great that Lisa and Anastasia are in the main draw. They are both fantastic players and can go far in the tournament. The crowd will obviously get right behind them and it will be a difficult challenge for their opponents. I am happy to have avoided them," he said.

Gurney will play either Ross Smith or the experienced Paul Lim in his opener and he knows plenty about both.

"Ross is a good player who is doing well this year after taking a bit of a break from the game, while Paul has been around for a long time," he said.

"Whoever I play it will be tricky but I'm really looking forward to getting back to Alexandra Palace which is a great venue and the big crowds always generate a fantastic atmosphere, helping to lift most players' games.

"If you don't enjoy playing darts there then you are in the wrong game.

"Between now and the start of the World Championship it is all about getting the practice in and doing the hard work.

"Hopefully the hard work pays off," added Gurney, who waltzes up to the oche to Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline', the now Windsor Park anthem giving the Northern Ireland fan inspiration before his darting battles.

World No.5 Gurney will head the Ulster challenge in the showpiece event - which boasts a whopping £500,000 for the winner - with Fermanagh's Brendan Dolan and Tyrone's Mickey Mansell also hoping to make an impact.

Gurney said: "Brendan has so much experience at the top level that he can beat anybody, while Mickey has really hit top form this year."

The local lads will all make it home for Christmas, even if they progress in the tournament.

Gurney missed Christmas Day at home a couple of years ago because of travel difficulties but the event is now structured so that the UK-based players make it home for the big day. The final is on New Year's Day with Gurney in with a big shout of being sport's first world champion of 2019. He is usually accompanied to Ally Pally by dad Tom and girlfriend Aine, and Daryl Junior could soon be making an appearance too.

Daryl said: "I'd love to take wee Daryl over but we haven't decided yet - I'm sure he'd be fine but it might be a bit noisy for him at Ally Pally."

Wee Daryl might take to it, just like his dad.

Belfast Telegraph