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Live Darts Editor's Column - Machine rebooted on the Emerald Isle

Jamie Shaw in Editor's Column 14 Oct 2014
James Wade pictured with the runner-up trophy at the Citywest (credit:Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

It's no secret that the standard of professional darts is astronomical, but last week's World Grand Prix raised the bar to a whole new level.

Despite how the bookmakers may see it, there are no longer two clear frontrunners for every major trophy - any one of perhaps a dozen players have what it takes to mount a serious title challenge.

Given the nature of the unique double-start format, even adding a modest seven points to the final averages would amount to 17 separate ton-plus figures during this year's World Grand Prix - more than ever before.

The tournament was significant not only for its nine-dart exploits (more on that later) - but for the re-emergence of James Wade from the darting doldrums.

While his three-year wait for a major televised title goes on, Wade was the big winner over the week in Dublin, returning to his brilliant best form and emphasising his stature as one of the PDC's prize assets.

Undoubtedly, his triumph in Gibraltar back in June helped no end to break down the mental barriers for the left-hander, who described that as the biggest win of his career.

Additionally fuelled by motivation to regain his place in the Premier League after being left out this season, Wade was dogged, workman-like and oozed class in his run to the final. 

Opening the batting with a spectacular nine-darter against Robert Thornton, Wade sent out a clear message to the rest of the pack and etched his name back into the history books for all the right reasons.

That feat gave him the renewed belief that he could end a six-year wait for a televised toppling of Taylor, which he duly carried out in emphatic style and didn't allow his opponent's under-par display to affect his own game as he had in recent times.

After his comeback win over Gary Anderson in the Semi-Finals, it looked to be written in the stars that the Aldershot thrower's name would be back on the trophy for the third time, and few would have argued against it.

But the mental and physical fatigue was there for all to see in the final, and despite matching Michael van Gerwen for six sets, 'The Machine' was running on empty as he watched the Dutchman take the title.

From running the Live Darts social feeds all week, it was clear to see that Wade's performances and demeanour in Dublin have won back a significant portion of fans, and although he fell short of the title, the most important factor of all is his happy mindset. There may well be a major title coming his way in 2014 yet.

Not to be outdone, Thornton chose to get in on the act with a nine-darter of his own. Who'd have thought it? One in 16 years, then two within an hour.

But Thornton's feat was all the more remarkable given he had flown home after his first round match to attend his mother's funeral, before returning to Ireland to play his part in a classic. Testament to one of darts' greatest battlers on and off the oche.

Van Gerwen's victory means he extends his lead at the top of the order of merit, effectively securing top spot for another 12 months. His form may have wilted sightly this year, but he remains the man to beat on planet darts.

They say 90% of darts is played in the mind and if that notion was ever in doubt, take Raymond van Barneveld as a prime example.

A five-time World Champion who picked up the Premier League title in May, you'd expect his confidence and belief to be sky high, but a string of dismal displays on floor tournaments over the past three months have allowed the doubts to come flooding back. 

The turning point looked to be the change of darts midway through his clash with Simon Whitlock at the World Matchplay - something which I've never seen the like of.

We all know Barney as a keen tungsten tinkerer, but his current darts are a far cry from the ones he has enjoyed success with in recent years. They're heavier, thicker and more difficult to control.

His match against Mervyn King was every Barney fan's worst nightmare. Whitewashed in two separate legs, throwing darts effortlessly at the bull carried an element of disrespect towards his opponent, in my eyes at least.

One can only hope that Van Barneveld's 'back problems' are eradicated before the crucial run-in towards the World Championship - where he defends £60,000 in prize money from his run to the Semi-Finals two years ago, otherwise a further tumble down the rankings could be on the cards.

There is talk of him skipping the Players Championship Finals (should he manage to qualify) but that decision could work one of two ways. One thing's for certain, Barney remains darts' greatest enigma and that's what makes him so watch-able.

On another note, it was great to see encouraging performances from the likes of Kevin Painter, Richie Burnett and Dean Winstanley - all of whom have struggled for form of late and can now take big strides ahead of the season's finale.

Stephen Bunting's run to the semis carried him into the world's top 32 after just nine months in the PDC ranks - a phenomenal achievement and testament to his frightening ability. Watch out for 'The Bullet' at Ally Pally.

A wounded Taylor will return to the glory trail in Muelheim next week, and I don't envy Steve Beaton's task of playing host to 'The Power' in the first round once again. All the best, Steve.

Given the sheer volume of in-form players and the rising expectation levels, we're in for a fascinating end to the darting year - where the events come thick and fast. Roll on the European Championship. Eat. Sleep. Darts. Repeat.

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Live Darts Editor's Column - Machine rebooted on the Emerald Isle

It's no secret that the standard of professional darts is astronomical, but last week's World Grand Prix raised the bar to a whole new level.

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