The most unpredictable darts tournament since the 2008 World Championship reached the most predictable of conclusions in Dublin last night, with Phil Taylor securing his tenth World Grand Prix title.
As at Ally Pally in 2008, a rank outsider made his way through to the final – 500-1 shot Brendan Dolan taking on the mantle of Kirk Shepherd. Dolan’s success ensures that he will be back on Sky Sports in the Grand Slam of Darts in November, as well as returning to Alexandra Palace before Christmas for a fourth crack at the World Championship. On this occasion, he will be hoping at least to win a set, having been whitewashed previously by James Wade, Raymond Van Barneveld and Wes Newton.
If Wade and Newton will look back on the 2011 Grand Prix as wasted opportunities – even if Wade made it to the semi-final – how Raymond Van Barneveld views his performances any more is anyone’s guess.
Barney – four times BDO World Champion and once successful in the PDC version – is at a stage in his career when winning TV singles’ events has become a distant memory; his last was the 2007 UK Open, crowning a golden six months for the Dutchman that also included victory in the Las Vegas Desert Classic and that PDC World Championship.
This year alone, however, since his New Years’ Day World Championship humiliation at the hands of Gary Anderson, he has lost on TV to Newton, Wade and Adrian Lewis. His loss in the last 16 to Andy Smith in Dublin last week, was his first since 2008 in any of the big four tournaments (UK Open, Matchplay, Grand Prix, Worlds) to someone ranked outside of today’s current top 10. He is now ranked eighth in the PDC, and his earnings for this year drop him as low as thirteenth.
On his day, Van Barneveld remains one of the best players in the World, and he demonstrated as much by breaking a three-year tournament duck at a non-televised ranking event in September (as well as by reaching the semi-final of the European Championships in July). For now, he also remains box-office – the reason why his 2012 Premier League place is surely already secure.
For most players, remaining in the top 8 in the world after five years, and still regularly reaching the latter stages of competitions, would be achievement enough to head-off criticism of the lack of major titles. For Barney, it’s different, however. Lack of success does not seem to sit well with him. He clearly struggles with the commitment required of a professional player, and chooses to sit out certain tournaments. He seeks perfection in his game, but doesn’t quite know what to do when his performance doesn’t match his expectations.
His current ranking ensures that he has some work to do to avoid playing Taylor in the quarter final of the World Championship in December; if the draw is unkind to him he may even struggle to get that far (on current rankings he would face Paul Nicholson in the last sixteen).Without some success in the next twelve weeks, it’s possible that his slip down the rankings will become a slide. That, as players such as Wayne Mardle and Peter Manley have recently found, can easily be terminal.
Raymond Van Barneveld is one of the sports’ greatest talents, with the smoothest throw in world darts, who won what was probably the best darts’ match ever. Three months to get back on track? Let’s hope not – but the signs are clearly there that one of darts’ finest careers is in danger of coming to a premature end.