JASON CULLEN was the pride of Ballymurn on Saturday last as the 24-year-old marked his debut in the British Darts Organisation World Championship at the Lakeside venue in Frimley Green, Surrey, with a sensational 3-1 victory over number eleven seed Martin Atkins from England.
Cullen showed nerves of steel in the fourth set as he came back from a 2-1 deficit, winning the last two legs to claim a notable scalp and advancing to meet Ross Montgomery of Scotland or England's Paul Jennings in the last 16 which starts this evening (Tuesday) at 5.15 p.m.
Television coverage by the BBC kicked in on Saturday afternoon with the competition newcomer holding a 2-1 lead in sets over the hotly-fancied Atkins in this best of five encounter. And while the Englishman took the first leg in what was a must-win fourth set for him, Cullen hit back with a double ten check-out.
There was frustration for Jason in the third leg when, despite hitting 137, he missed three doubles (twelve, six and one) before Atkins prevailed on double ten. A nice 140 in the fourth leg showed that the underdog's confidence was still intact though, and he drew level on 2-2 with a double five finish after missing double top and double ten.
Atkins was clearly rattled and, although he went into the fifth and final leg with the darts in his favour, Jason seized on his low score of 55 with an excellent 137 on his first visit to the oche. The more experienced Englishman didn't register more than 60 in four subsequent visits, and Jason was first to the double after a below-par 41 was followed by superb tallies of 135 and 140 despite the mounting pressure.
The man known as 'the whistler' in darts circles wasn't going to be denied at that stage, and he nailed double 16 at the first attempt to claim a huge scalp on the opening day of the event which featured a number of shocks. The unseeded reigning champion, Christian Kist of Holland, was beaten 3-1 by fifth seed Robbie Green (England), while tenth seed Gary Robson (England) lost 3-1 to fellow countryman Garry Thompson.
Jason had a dream debut in a performance which featured four maximum 180s, 24 100s and 15 100-plus scores. He suffered an early setback when Atkins took out 144 in the first leg to break his throw, but he bounced straight back and won the set after his opponent missed double top.
Atkins replied to make it 1-1 after an error-ridden second set, but Jason showed his desire to succeed in the first leg of the third set when he began with a maximum and took the lead after just 15 darts. He hit scores of 100 or more no fewer than eleven times in that set to take a 2-1 advantage, and the best was still to come as Cullen clinched a victory which none of the experts felt was possible beforehand.
Speaking on the BBC afterwards, the jubilant Wexford man noted that he 'made a few mistakes early on. I thought they would come back to haunt me, but thank God it went according to plan,' he said.
When asked about the pressure of the occasion, the Ballymurn native said that 'when it came to the walk-on it hit me that this is it. We've done the Irish proud in Lakeside, so I'm happy with that'.
Hopes are now high that the Irish number two, who has been capped 39 times by his country, will be able to make further progress. A two-times Irish National and Irish Masters champion, he also proudly wore green in the European Youth Cup in 2004 and was runner-up in the singles. A stonemason by profession, he has been playing darts for 12 years and enjoys horse-riding and hunting in his spare time, although he has been concentrating solely on the arrows since qualifying for these World Championships which represents the pinnacle of his career in the sport to date.