Having swapped the glamour of Premier League life for parental duties during the enforced break, Daryl Gurney admits that precious family time has put darts into perspective, but with the PDC Summer Series edging ever closer, the Northern Irishman is relishing his return.
The PDC circuit is renowned for its gruelling and relentless nature and having embarked on a third consecutive Premier League campaign, that is a sentiment Gurney would attest to.
However, the coronavirus pandemic saw the sporting calendar grind to a halt in mid-March and whilst darts continued to flourish with the innovative online concept, Gurney has remained out of the spotlight.
That is by circumstance rather than choice. His partner Aine is a key-worker and has been in high demand throughout the crisis, leaving Daryl to look after their son, who turned two in April.
“My partner is a key worker so for the last 12 or 13 weeks I’ve been watching my little boy full-time,” Gurney told Sky Sports.
“She’s a social worker so she has been on the frontline as much as the nurses. She has still had to go out to houses and make sure all the children are under control and safe.
“The little one is a handful, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I have been loving spending time with my son. It definitely does put things into perspective.”
Fans have had the opportunity to chart the form of most players through their participation on the PDC Home Tour, although Gurney will be somewhat of an unknown quantity when he returns for next week’s Summer Series.
The 34-year-old was one of four Top 16 absentees on the Home Tour with world No 1 Michael van Gerwen, two-time world champion Adrian Lewis and former major winner Mensur Suljovic also opting not to feature.
Gurney has been an ever-present in the world’s top eight throughout the last few years and was ranked third in the world at one stage, although he concedes that his home set-up does not befit a player of his calibre.
“I’ve still got the exact same throw as when I started playing darts when I was 12. There is just a dartboard screwed on to the outside of my bedroom door. There is no surround, there is no light and there is still no oche.
“Even though I was world No 3 that is the only practice board I’ve ever played on and I haven’t changed anything. If I put it on the Home Tour, I don’t think it would have come up to criteria,” he quipped.
Nevertheless, whilst some players have utilised the lockdown period to refine aspects of their game, Gurney had barely picked up a dart prior to a few weeks ago, but he’s determined to play catch-up to ensure he’s ready for this month’s World Matchplay.
“After two or three weeks I had managers and players ringing me saying I cannot wait until the darts starts and now it’s been 13 weeks.
“I’ve given myself five weeks to get ready for the Matchplay. The big plan is to be ready for that. I’ve been practising for the last two weeks and I’ll be practising every single night.
“I’d love to pick up another new major other than Dublin and the Players Championship, just to add another one to the cabinet.”
It was a tournament of mixed emotions for Gurney 12 months ago. The Derry native defied a 105 average from Peter Wright to prevail 16-13 in the quarter-finals, only to relinquish a commanding advantage against Rob Cross in the semi-finals.
“I go under the radar in everything I enter until I get to the final and am lifting the trophy at the end, but I’d rather be the underdog.”
Gurney relishes underdog tag
However, his latest assault for Matchplay glory will not take place at the iconic Winter Gardens, after the PDC confirmed on Wednesday that the tournament will take place behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.
This is not uncharted territory for Gurney and his colleagues, as the 2018 UK Open took place without spectators due to adverse weather conditions in Minehead.
That was a tournament littered with upsets and the two-time major winner believes that playing in a more subdued Pro Tour type of environment will add to the unpredictability.
“There are certain players that you can play in a Pro Tour that you know it’s going to be 6-5 either way, but if you play them on TV in a longer format, you know have the beating of them.
“You can get an easier result through big stage experience. If they do it behind closed doors, anybody could win it. The class of the field is that good now.”
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By his own admission, Gurney endured an underwhelming start to 2020, but his run to the semi-finals of the UK Open marked a welcome return to form which he is bidding to build upon.
His World Grand Prix and Players Championship exploits are evidence of his major pedigree, but he’s unperturbed by the underdog tag and insists he thrives on proving a point against the world’s best.
“I’ll never ever be favourite for a tournament. I always play a good game but I don’t play my A+ game every single game.
“I go under the radar in everything I enter until I get to the final and am lifting the trophy at the end, but I’d rather be the underdog.
“Whenever I am playing the likes of Michael [Van Gerwen] or Gary [Anderson] I always look up to them, because they are the pinnacle of the PDC. I am always the underdog when I play those types of players and I thrive on that.”
Gurney’s claims have substance. He defeated Van Gerwen to lift the Players Championship Finals crown in 2018 and he also did the double over the irrepressible Dutchman in last year’s Premier League – only the second man to do so in the tournament’s history.
‘Super Chin’ reached the semi-finals of last year’s roadshow having finished fifth in his debut campaign back in 2018, although prior to lockdown, he was staring down the barrel of elimination.
The world No 7 has picked up just two points from his opening six games and trails eighth-place Rob Cross by three points, with three nights of action remaining before Judgement Night.
The Premier League is scheduled to resume on July 30 but Gurney is philosophical about his struggles this year and insists that he hasn’t given up hope of survival.
“I think I’d been playing well away from TV and then the UK Open, but if you’re off at all in the Premier League, you are going to get beaten and players are going to take their chances.
Premier League Darts 2020 – Revised schedule
|Thursday July 30||Night Seven||Arena Birmingham|
|Thursday August 13||Night Eight||SSE Arena, Belfast|
|Thursday August 13||Night Nine (Judgement Night)||The O2, London|
|Thursday August 20||Night 10||First Direct Arena, Leeds|
|Thursday August 27||Night 11||Mercedes-Benz Arena, Berlin|
|Thursday September 3||Night 12||Rotterdam Ahoy|
|Thursday September 9||Night 13||Rotterdam Ahoy|
|Thursday September 10||Night 14||SSE Hydro, Glasgow|
|Thursday September 17||Night 15||Manchester Arena|
|Thursday September 24||Night 16||Utilita Arena, Newcastle|
|Thursday October 1||Play Offs||Fly DSA Arena, Sheffield|
“The players in the Premier League are incredible and I was losing all the poor legs and missing opportunities and every game it has come back to bite me.
“I have loved every minute of the Premier League and should I get relegated this year so be it, the other players were better and I haven’t been good enough, but by no means is it over yet. I’ll be going out there every night to try and win.”
The sport’s return could spark a spate of unpredictable results with so many factors to consider, and adaptability will be paramount, but write off Daryl Gurney at your peril. He lifted two major titles against the odds and he’s not finished there.
Darts returns to Sky Sports in July, with nine days of coverage from the World Matchplay getting underway on Saturday, July 18, and every day until the final on Sunday, July 26.