Round 4 – Essendon v Geelong: 9 Darts in Belfast

Essendon versus Geelong
1.45pm, Saturday, 17 April
Melbourne Cricket Ground

 

 

A moderate Friday night consumption of Guinness and Redbreast 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey (adding coke can lead to threats of castration by the bar staff) at Belfast’s energetic Kelly’s Cellars forms the perfect preparation for the 4:45am Geelong game. A short walk from our Airbnb apartment in the loyalist Sandy Row area. The nearest watering hole, the infamous Royal Hotel, features a Hurricane Higgins mural out the front. As I lay expectantly in bed waiting for the opening siren, the hope is that Geelong pile on the goals like Hurricane used to pot alternate reds and colours. Percentage in late August is always a crucial numerical commodity.

 

Surprisingly and frustratingly, the predicted goal avalanche does not occur. Instead, I listen to an error-marred putrid shocker. Geelong bumble, stumble and stammer to a meagre 9 goals against a plucky Essendon whose modus operandi is to minimise opposition ascendancy through defensive pressure. From the disbelieving radio commentators, it sounds as though Dangerfield shows customary ping and leadership throughout. Selwood comes alive in the last stanza as is ingrained in his DNA. Lonergan applies his form of weed killer to a recently flowering Daniher. Motlop, as Motlop does, continues to ease his way into the season.

 

Worryingly for the Cats, there still seems to be no ruck presence. And the decision to give Johnno the Tijuana still appears patently wrong. Mercifully this headache-inducing torture is over by 7:10am.

The Old Muckers

The Old Muckers

On the Thursday night, as part of a continuing traversal of the sporting universe known as Old Mucker Time, Grant, Corka and myself attend our first Premier League Darts night. The venue is no poky smoky boozer buzzing with barflies and ruddy-faced experienced stayers. It’s an 11,000 capacity arena full of darting devotees, reprobates and bon vivants. A good proportion of them middle-aged men dressed in fancy garb (dressing up either as a banana or as Laurel or Hardy are currently in vogue). The old muckers have seriously lucked in on the star-studded order of play. Among the match ups are Barney versus Phil, Lewis versus Wade and Anderson versus van Gerwen (note to the uninitiated that darts fans rarely use full names).

 

We are keen for the night to begin. It is fair to say that we have had a gutful of locals asking us whether or not we were participating in the darts.

 

Contrasting styles abound among tonight’s combatants. Barney is a graceful technician. His darts contact the board with the softest of thuds. Phil is still the alpha male and a ruthless scoring machine. Lewis is slightly unhinged and streaky. Wade is introspective, methodical and scholarly. Anderson is a superb well-grounded competitor who never seems fazed. The Gary Ablett junior doppelganger of the darting troupe, van Gerwen is a phenom. A tyro who throws his three darts in perpetual motion.

 

Contemporary professional sport has many negative influences impacting on it. It is being warped by advances in technology, infiltrated with drugs peddled by medical charlatans and consumed by cheating athletes, dogged by integrity issues and cheapened by crass commercialism. Against this tide, darts is one sport that retains an unquestionable and endearing purity.

 

At first glance, darts seems uncomplicated. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Darts is way more complex than merely flinging a small metal arrow two and a bit metres at an ingeniously constructed board. You need the mental computation skills of a rails bookmaker to strategise your way to victory. Physically, it is a vastly underrated test of hand-eye coordination, muscle memory and precision. And no joshing, you have to be fit.

 

Further, darts is a thorough examination of a thrower’s character and mental constitution. Like putting in golf, you can develop afflictions from darts. Ask the Crafty Cockney, Eric Bristow, who developed dartitis (a form of the yips) at the height of his career and had to checkout prematurely.

 

Ask anybody who has battled Phil Taylor, the colossus of the sport. Taylor has been purported to use eye-watering flatulence at the oche to change the atmospherics of a contest and blow away a pesky opponent. He is not known as World Farts Champion for nothing!

 

When you couple the physical and mental, it could be argued darts is the ultimate sporting test. There is no palaver. It’s just you, a dart, a dartboard and an opponent. Devilishly simple in principle. Frustratingly difficult in practice.

 

Darts is largely an individual sport. To come close to nailing it takes years of flinging darts in solitude. That is a huge slab of time spent with no company other than your own thoughts, doubts and questions. It is little wonder then that darts, like snooker and golf, can accentuate eccentricities in character.

 

Everybody at the darts is here to have fun. For some, it could provide an escape from the ravages of a city dogged by sectarian and political violence. Tonight it is possible that loyalists could sit with nationalists and cheer in unison. A bit like Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog lunching together convivially after a fierce morning battle at a sheep-grazing meadow.

We are in the floor section seated on a table of eight. The bar is handy. The beer is reasonably priced. And the place is already heaving. Before the big match-ups, the first game features that colourful character Peter ‘Snakebite’ Wright. Snakebite’s stage appearance involves dolling himself up in a whitish/grey Mohawk with a snake’s head embossed where his hair usually hangs in everyday life.

 

In a taxi queue at George Best airport the evening before, I whisper to the old muckers that Snakebite is in front of us. His partner confirms my suspicion and we pose for a photo. Snakebite has a reputation for interacting positively with fans and he does not let us down. He leaves us with the confident prediction that he will win.

Snakebite

Snakebite

A prominent feature of the darts experience is the walk on. Each player is announced on stage like they are about to fight for the World Heavyweight Title. They are accompanied by a walk-on girl (yes unfortunately that is their job title) and a scary security dude. Each player enters the main stage to a theme song that often matches their darting nickname. During the walk-on, they glove tap fans and various hangers-on. Like pubescent teenagers, us old muckers position ourselves at the top of the runway itching to say g’day to old mate Snakebite. Snakebite sees us, recognises us from the cab rank, comes over, says hello and gives each of us a double glove tap. We giggle like One Direction groupies. He’s a good man Snakebite.

 

Despite our barracking, Snakebite’s confidence is unfounded and he gets wiped like a dirty derriere. Taylor piles on the pressure and accounts for Barney. We look forward to Lewis v Wade. They have history and are contrasting in styles. My tip is for a close match.

 

How rare is it to witness true sporting perfection? In snooker, it’s a 147 maximum break. In cricket, it’s 6 sixes in an over. In darts, it’s a nine-dart finish. A nine-dart finish involves completing a leg by scoring 501 with nine darts (the minimum number). The last dart must score a double. The first nine-dart finish ever seen on television was achieved by John Lowe in October 1984 (check out his hairdo on YouTube). Also known as a 9-darter, the feat sounds like a bird and they are nearly as rare as a night parrot sighting.

 

Adrian Lewis from Stoke-on-Trent steps up to the oche for the 10th leg of a predictably close tussle. He’s a quick player who seems to play on autopilot with nary a neuron firing. A rapid-fire darting metronome. As he throws, an ample amount of torso skin can be seen wobbling gelatinously under his garish stage shirt. His first three darts of the leg are triple 20’s (a total of 180). The crowd roars. We roar and sip although we do not need much encouragement in these pursuits to be fair.

 

Wade throws his darts. Lewis then barges eagerly up to the oche and throws two triple 20’s and a triple 19 (a total of 177) leaving him with 144 (two triple 20’s and a double 12) to finish. We pay more attention now. In those three darts, Lewis mouths a come on before each dart. He senses the nine-dart is on. Wade throws his darts.

Premier Darts League Crowd

Premier Darts League Crowd

Now the crowd is at fever pitch.

 

Lewis.

 

Triple 20. Roar. Triple 20 again. Bigger roar. All eyes on the double 12.

 

Yes! He’s done it! He’s done it!

image3a

We go berserk. Rather than a triumphalist bonfire sending flames and smoke of sectarian hate into the air, this is a human bonfire of joy. A celebration of the human spirit and endeavour. Beer cups fly. We dance like we have nailed the National Lottery. Strangers hug. You cannot discount the possibility that Shankill and Clonard residents embrace. It is amazing to think what a fat bloke who has complete control over the destiny of his arrows can do.

 

9 darts from Lewis versus 9 goals from Geelong.

 

Darts was clearly the winner.

 

Essendon         2.2 5.4 6.5 6.6 (42)
Geelong          2.3 5.6 6.13 9.18 (72)

GOALS
Essendon: Zaharakis, Laverde, Merrett, Brown, Fantasia, Stokes

Geelong: Motlop 2, Caddy, Stanley, Gregson, Cockatoo, Bartel, Lang, Smith

Best
Essendon: Zaharakis, Merrett, Hartley, Cooney, McDonald-Tipungwuti

Geelong: Dangerfield, Duncan, Lonergan, Selwood, Motlop, Taylor, Caddy

Umpires: Hay, McInerney, Mitchell

Official crowd: 42,723

Our Votes: 3 Dangerfield (Geel) 2 Duncan (Geel) 1 Lonergan (Geel)

Comments

  1. Sensational PF. I felt I was there. Some magnificent lines here. Love the rare sighting of the night parrot.

    Geelong v Essendon was a sordid affair.

    PS – if I ever see you putting Coke into a single malt whiskey I’ll castrate you myself.

  2. Well played, Old Mate.
    Sounds like it was a brilliant experience.

  3. Rick Kane says:

    Fantastic report Old Mucker. My old man was a Darts Master (at least in local Perth Pub comps in the 70s and 80s). He would have loved a night like you had. Cheers

  4. Luke Reynolds says:

    Brilliant PJF. Totally with Dips re single malt. Will keep an eye out for Snakebite, sounds like one to follow.

  5. E.regnans says:

    Now there’s a story.
    PJ Flynn.
    You had me on the edge of my proverbial.

    Which footy team would Snakebite best represent?

  6. Cheesehead says:

    Great report, loved it and am insanely jealous that I wasn’t there myself. If only Jackpot could have got the three votes for his efforts!

  7. Peter Flynn says:

    Thanks all.

    ”Twas a ripping night.

    Snakebite would barrack for Collingwood I reckon.

    Here is the vision of Lewis.

  8. Loving the literary weaving of the sectarian tensions with the unadulterated joy of a 9 dart finish. Good arraz, Sneak.

  9. Sticking with the rule of 9’s was the nine hour round trip from Belfast to The Giants Causeway via the ‘scenic’ route and the worst effort at a Bruce Soringsteen themed restaurant ever! The ‘Boss’ burger was the entire extent of their endeavours here. Once we finally arrived at a slightly wind swept Causeway five minutes before stumps, think Freemantle Doctor raiding the steroids cabinet and you’ll get the idea, It was a homage to the Grand Canyon scene from National Lampoons Vacation before the 2-4-6-8 Motorway trip home to get the hire car back before fines began to mount up for late return of said vehicle.

  10. Peter Flynn says:

    As accurate as an atomic clock.

  11. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Absolutely brilliant,PJF loved the weed killer line re Lonergan ( I may borrow that line in the futur ) and with the darts you made us all feel like we were there sensational thank you ( are you coming over for,Sat night ? )

  12. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    It is a profoundly beguiling piece of writing that can have me googling for my nearest darts tournament.
    ‘Contrasting styles abound …’ favourite paragraph. So good.
    Travel on, OMF.

  13. Superb. Or, as Corka is suggesting, “Good darts, P Flynn”.

    Am I right in thinking you’ve written this for your beloved Annie?

  14. TG White says:

    Wow fantastic report. When I shared with JTH, Otis and Sparra at Bundhill, we slung many an arrow on the verandah. The good old days.

  15. Peter Flynn says:

    Thanks for the kind recent comments Old Mates.

    QF10 boards close to 3/4 time R Book.

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