A brilliantly unusual event with a very familiar outcome

At a certain point during each sporting year, Johnny McEvoy’s beautiful rendition of The Ballad Of Michael Collins gets a spin out on this machine. For the citation at the start thereof will forever strike a chord: ‘Just as quickly as it started the firing stopped, and a terrible silence hung over the valley’. Now read on…

It usually gets its run either at the end of the Cheltenham Festival or whenever vested interest in the local GAA championships terminates for the season. The thing is, it was earnestly hoped the latter-named factor wouldn’t come into play anywhere near as early as transpired to be the case.

That said, from a long way out this term it was obvious the local ship wasn’t as steady as would have been desired or needed were ambitions of sustainability to come to fruition. What the vessel running aground did, of course, was necessitate the manufacture of contingency plans by which to negotiate the often-hazardous winter months.

The return of National Hunt racing to Fairyhouse will play a huge role in same, obviously. However, due to circumstances, much of the 2019 Rugby World Cup hasn’t been as accessible as would perhaps normally be the case.

So, the net must be cast a bit wider. Which, at this time of year means turning to darts. Like a lot of things at present, even that’s laced with a layer of poignancy. It was mam’s brother Joe – farmer, punter and all-round sports fan who got me hooked on affairs of the arrows a good few years ago now. And from there I’ve brought dad along with me.

However, as the World Grand Prix was getting under way at the City West in Dublin, all the ensuing entertainment would be readily swapped to have Joe back on form. So it was very much bittersweet watching a brilliantly unusual event at the Saggart venue which ended up having a very familiar outcome.

Michael Van Gerwen – Still the man to beat.

For those not au fait with how the Grand Prix plays out – Lord knows it took this corner long enough to decipher it – players must start their turn at the oche with a double. Again, for the uninitiated, there are two rings on a dart board and whereas in a ‘normal’ tournament, players can begin by pegging the tungsten anywhere, in that unique arena they must kick off by hitting a number on the outer ring.

The level to which the stipulation flummoxes some of the best arrowsmiths in the game is actually quite remarkable. As best evidenced by the manner in which my favourite practitioner of the craft, Gary Anderson of Scotland, was defenestrated from the action by the burgeoning Chris Dobey while the supremely talented but enigmatic Adrian Lewis bit the dust at the arrows of Jermaine Wattimena, yet another gifted Dutch dartist.

While it would appear unlikely that the format would actually suit any player, it is certain that there are those who adapt to it better than others. Results mentioned above notwithstanding, one need only look to the progress made by the likes of the veteran Mervyn King and, in particular, Glen Durrant – who has prospered greatly since transferring from the BDO (British Darts Organisation) to the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation).

Glen Durrant is making great strides in the PDC.

Dave Chisnall was another who lit up the Dublin nights most recently and, a bit like Lewis, often seems capable of plenty more than he actually produces. That said, in the most recent instance he did make it all the way to the final. That he eventually succumbed to the green darting machine that is Michael Van Gerwen therein is (a) hardly the greatest shock but (b) – and actually more importantly in this case – there’s absolutely no shame in that at all.

Dave Chisnall is getting closer to a breakthrough success

That said, to this observer at least, the Dutch darting juggernaut – as Sky tiresomely continue to describe the World Number One – has had a bit of ware on the axels at different stages in the last while. But then, part of greatness is being able to find a way to either win or simply survive when adversity is at its most feverish. See the Dublin footballers this season when Killian Spillane’s goal and point for Kerry appeared to have derailed the drive for five.

Similarly, even though Van Gerwen has looked more vulnerable at stages this season than at any time since he re-launched his career, per se, in 2012, he has still amassed what for many would constitute a good career’s worth of titles in the course of 2019, including, lest we forget, the Sid Wadell Trophy at the start of the year.

To return to GAA, briefly, by way of comparison, where there is a sense that other teams are closing the gap on Dublin – whether illusory or not – there are also signs that some who would normally populate a tailed-off chasing pack are at the very least making shapes about closing in on the man at the top.

Will they get him? Only time will tell, but their attempts should make for entertaining viewing.

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