“Superchin” Daryl Gurney has climbed 24 places in just over 9 months in a run that includes a maiden major title, 4 pro-tour finals and earnings over £150,000.
Modern darts is a sport in which many of its players are household names and rank in the world’s top 20, yet haven’t won a major title.
Such has been the dominance of players like Phil Taylor and, more recently, Michael van Gerwen, that the band of TV major winners is still very small. In fact, when it comes to picking a winner of the big trophies, players outside the top few are rarely considered.
So, in darts, perhaps more than any other sport, breaking into the very top ranks is a must if you are to be a contender. Some players climb steadily until they reach their summit and hit a wall. A few seemingly come from nowhere and burst onto the scene.
For others, their rise through the rankings is the result of application, dedication and something in the stars that suddenly makes all that hard work pay off. Northern Ireland’s Daryl Gurney, known on the circuit as ‘SuperChin’, is one such player.
When he joined Team Winmau in September 2016, Daryl was ranked number 27 in the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) Order of Merit and was just one of a number of players on the fringe of breaking into the upper echelons.
For many players, simply broaching the top 32 barrier is the pinnacle of their careers. Very few manage to go to the next level of breaking into the top ten and then the top four. Yet, following an incredible 2017, that’s exactly what Daryl has achieved.
The last 12 months have seen him reach the quarter-finals of seven TV majors. In four of them he made the semi-finals and in October this year he secured his place amongst the sport’s elite by winning a TV major, the World Grand Prix in Dublin, beating Team Winmau’s Simon Whitlock five sets to four.
“It was huge relief to win that,” says Daryl. “So many great players have not managed to win a major TV title. It’s nice to have that particular monkey off my back. It hasn’t sunk in yet but I have a little smile to myself when the announcer calls out ‘World Grand Prix champion’ at the start of every walk on. No one can take that away from me.”
Few observers of the sport ever doubted that Daryl had it in him to win a major, and to go on to win many more, especially after the form he showed throughout 2017.
Born in Derry, Northern Ireland, the 31 year-old started playing BDO tournaments in 2003, reaching the last 16 in the 2009 and 2010 Lakeside World Championships. He moved to the PDC circuit after winning his tour card in 2013 and his walk on to the strains of ‘Sweet Caroline’ has become a firm favourite with the fans.
Like most other players though, Daryl’s introduction to darts was a lot humbler.
“I started playing when I was 12 years old,” he says. “My dad Tom was a fair player at county level and he won a cap for Northern Ireland. He needed someone to practice with just to replicate the rhythm of a match. Within a year I was beating dad regularly and started playing for his club’s B team in the Northwest League.”
With such a precocious talent seeking an outlet, it wasn’t long, the next year in fact, when aged 14 Daryl was elevated to the A team. Up until last year he continued to play for the club, Villas A until tour commitments meant he had to leave after 17 years. Any spare time he has now is spent tinkering with his collection of Vauxhall cars, many of them classics.
Darts has always come first for Daryl; in his teenage years, he’d forgo a night out with his friends if he had a darts tournament the next day. But he attributes his surge in 2017 in large part to his relationship with sponsors Winmau and the additional drive it generated within him.
“As a kid we never had Sky or anything like that, so my TV darts all came from the Lakeside via the BBC,” says Daryl. “With Winmau providing the dartboards, I grew up recognising the company as the biggest name in the game.
“When they approached me about sponsorship I suppose it meant deep down that I had somehow arrived, despite already being one of the top players in the world. All of a sudden the brand I had grown up with and respected the most wanted to sponsor me.”
Sports psychologists would no doubt have a field day with that, and there’s no denying that the tie in with Winmau coincided with Daryl’s rise through the rankings.
“I started working even harder and adopted a proper practice regime. I took a look at the top players ranked above me and knew I could beat them if everything came together. I used to play one great game and then have two or three mediocre ones. I realised that I had to produce my A game every time I played. Achieving consistency became my new objective.”
One aspect of his play that Daryl focused his elevated dedication on was finishing. Scoring had never been a problem but like most other players, hitting the double was at times an Achilles heel.
“When I am on stage I try to hit a good rhythm and not to rush myself and the scores seem to stem from that,” he explains. “I knew that to improve I had to increase my doubles percentage rate and reduce the chances I was giving my opponents. The opportunity to play in the World Series of Darts came at just the right time as it meant I would be playing frequently against the best players in the world as well as locals itching to prove a point.”
Being a part of the Winmau family also provided Daryl with access to some of the best darts technicians in the world. Together they analysed every aspect of his throw and set about designing darts that would suit him best.
“I had an idea about the darts I wanted,” he explains. “I sent the guys at Winmau a drawing. They made some prototypes and we met up so I could give them a try. They were almost perfect right from the start and only needed a little refining. Originally they were a bronze colour but I found them difficult to see in the board, so we changed to gold.”
With his best ever year drawing to a close, Daryl’s attention has turned towards the PDC World Championships – one of his many quarter-final achievements in 2017.
“Of course, I want to play well at the World Championships and believe that if I play to my potential I have the game to win,” he says. “Looking further ahead, I have worked hard to be a player who regularly makes the last 16 or eight in a tournament. In 2018 I’ll be working on getting to the next stage and making more finals to give myself a chance of winning more majors.”
For more information about Daryl’s darts, please visit: http://www.winmau.com/det/3053/daryl_gurney_darts_2018/
Photograhy by Chris Sargeant