‘Mighty’ Michael Van Gerwen takes Exeter by storm
Oliver Rickwood, Sport Editor, was at the Westpoint Arena to see the three-time World Champion Michael Van Gerwen dominate the Exeter stage, as the Premier League of Darts came to town in its Fifth Week.
Exeter’s Westpoint Arena was transformed into the ‘Ally Pally’ earlier this month, welcoming the very best Darts players in the world and thousands of fans from across the South of England. This night promised to be one of pure excitement and entertainment, sensed amongst the waves of fans flocking across the Devon fields to reach the Arena, many of whom had braved the cold in fancy dress. In the arena chants of ‘Stand up if you love the Darts’ could already be heard. Many had arrived early as the opening match was not to be missed.
Two of the heavyweights of World Darts would battle it out in the first quarter-final of the night, a repeat of the previous week’s final in Dublin in which ‘Mighty’ Michael Van Gerwen had come out on top, beating the ‘Iceman’ Gerwyn Price 6-5 in a closely fought contest. This was Van Gerwen’s first night win of the season, gaining 5 points on the board as well as a healthy £10,000 bonus.
There are 16 weeks in total, 16 cities to visit, and each night is its own mini tournament in which 5 points are awarded for the winner, 3 for the runner up and 2 for each semi-finalist. The final league table determines who qualifies for the playoffs, deciding the ultimate winner of the competition and the £275,000 prize pot.
Van Gerwen was looking to make it back-to-back night wins here in Exeter, and the crowd were firmly on his side, jeering his opponent as he entered the stage. The story of the opening legs was careless finishing, but a Bull finish for Van Gerwen to pull 5-3 ahead seemed to decide the game. He finished only 1 of his opening 16 doubles, then hit 5/5 including a lethal D15 to secure the win, a stat that perfectly summarises his much-improved second-half of the match.
Next up was reigning World Champion and World Number One Michael Smith, up against 2021 Premier League runner-up Nathan Aspinall, whose walkout to ‘Mr Brightside’ proved hugely popular amongst the Exeter fans. He broke Smith’s throw first in the 7th leg, taking out 116, and going on to break again in the final leg to win 6-3. Chris Dobey was disappointed to crash out in the third quarter final of the night, admitting that Belgium’s Dimitri Van den Bergh ‘punished’ his missed doubles. ‘You can’t afford to miss shots like that,’ he said, when I asked him about his early D12 miss, a moment in which the game seemed to start to get away from him. Peter Wright also crashed out, missing a dart for the match, and making it his fifth consecutive week without a win, as Johnny Clayton progressed to the Semi-finals.
‘I was punished straight away… at the top level, you can’t afford to miss shots like that.’Chris Dobey after crashing out in the Quarter-Final
The Devon cold seemed to be getting to the players on stage as many were visibly rubbing together and blowing into their hands to keep them warm. The cold, however, was not impacting the crowd’s enthusiasm as the semi-finals approached. As the drinks continued to flow for many, the rows of tables immediately before the stage were as animated as ever. Enter once again, ‘Mighty’ Mike.
In a match where 7 of the 10 legs were won against the throw, Van Gerwen had to ensure his top finishing was restored at crucial moments in this tie against Aspinall. Aspinall took an early 3-1 lead, but was left rueing three darts at 65 to go 4-1 up in the fifth leg as Van Gerwen fought back, averaging just over 100 to secure the win. The other semi-final saw Jonny Clayton, ‘The Ferret’ see off Van den Bergh in a fairly comfortable 6-2 win.
This competition really epitomises the sharp increase in the popularity of the sport, selling out arenas across the UK and maintaining a steady viewership live on TV every single week. The 2022 World Championship Final was watched by just under 1.5 million people in the UK, and the big characters of the Darts world, including many young and upcoming talents, are ensuring this popularity will certainly increase.
In the Exeter final, Michael Van Gerwen finally hit his peak of form taking an early 3-0 lead thanks to his superior scoring. Despite some big finishes by Clayton attempting to close the gap, Van Gerwen pulled away taking out a 106 finish on his way to winning the match 6-3. Van Gerwen had said before tonight that he was quite a way off his A game, and after the match I asked him if the win here in Exeter felt like a step in the right direction.
‘That’s how lucky they are!’ he joked, referring to the fact there is a still a lot more to come from him in the remainder of the tournament. ‘When you win, of course it is always nice but, when you are not playing your A game it really is fantastic!’
‘When you win, of course it is always nice, but when you are not playing your A game it really is fantastic!’Van Gerwen on winning despite not being at his best
Van Gerwen will look to extend his lead at the top of the table in the remainder of March, as the Premier League travels to Liverpool, Nottingham, and Newcastle, before a trip across Europe to play in Berlin on the 30th.