Thursday 19 September 2019

'Magpie' O'Connor keeps on defying the critics on his road less travelled

Modern dartist: William O’Connor finds himself in the third round of the PDC World Championships. ‘I have the game to go all the way,’ says the Limerick man. Photo: Ian Walton/PA
Modern dartist: William O’Connor finds himself in the third round of the PDC World Championships. ‘I have the game to go all the way,’ says the Limerick man. Photo: Ian Walton/PA
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Some sportspeople are fuelled by the encouragement of others and being told that the world is their oyster, but William O'Connor prefers to defy common logic and do what people deem impossible.

O'Connor's nickname of the 'Magpie' isn't just a catchy moniker, it perfectly describes his unexpected arrival onto the darting scene which came under the most inauspicious circumstances.

While others spent much of their youth on the oche, the Limerick native had no passion for darts growing up and only took it up aged 19, and even that was more through peer pressure down the local pub in Cappamore than any lust to throw 180s.

He showed a flair for it before a local event pitted him against a county thrower. His much-heralded opponent remarked to O'Connor that "you'll never bate me". It was the equivalent of poking a bear.

That was all it took for his competitive instincts to kick in and he duly dispatched of the county man before a light bulb clicked that there may be more to darts than just a way to pass the evenings.

The thought of the bright lights - and he makes no apologies about being attracted to the lure of the money - soon became a realistic possibility after a rapid rise but there have been plenty of roadblocks.

Chucked

An outdoorsman who loves hunting and fishing, being enclosed inside in front of a board goes against many of his fibres while O'Connor has chucked away his darts at various times in exasperation and considered quitting the game recently.

Today, however, he finds himself in the third round of the PDC World Championships. A 3-2 defeat of 26th seed James Wilson where he averaged 98.73 was a shock to many, but not himself, and he predicted to this writer five years ago that big things were on the horizon if he could make it on stage at the 'Ally Pally'.

"That's the one tournament I want to play in, I always said it from day one that the format would suit me, if I ever make a World Championship I'll do damage in it. The day I do make it, I will make an impact," he said matter of factly.

The 32-year-old, who handed world No 1 Michael van Gerwen an astonishing 6-1 defeat in from of his home crowd at the Dutch Darts Championship earlier this year, has lived up to his promise but his story could have been much different.

A carpenter by trade and employed by Furniture Man in Dromkeen, O'Connor decided to craft a new throwing style and stance and he "changed everything" to alleviate some dartitis - a debilitating condition similar to the 'yips' in golf - as it was "either pack it in or change it up".

"I had to change it because I wasn't going anywhere the way it was going. The decision was made for me when I wasn't getting the results I should be getting and I said, 'I can't keep doing it'," O'Connor said candidly on Thursday.

"They say it's a sign of madness if you keep doing the same thing and look for a different result so I had to change the thing up. The results are not near where I can be but they are getting better."

Life on the road with the PDC tour isn't all it's cracked up to be, however, with O'Connor quick to note that "you're just sitting in hotel rooms waiting for the days to pass" across various venues in Europe while he believes the razzmatazz of the Barry Hearn-driven organisation "looks a lot more glamorous than it is".

The last few days have been worth it all though with his phone going "berserk" with well wishes and interview requests as he plays his part in an Irish revolution at the €2.8 million extravaganza alongside Fermanagh's Brendan Dolan, Derry's Daryl Gurney and Carlow's Steve Lennon.

Given the psychological demands of darts and the repetition involved, O'Connor insists most of the hard yards have been made at this stage and he will only be picking up his darts for a light practise session before today's meeting with England's Ryan Searle, another unseeded surprise packet on the crest of a wave.

"My practice is done. I'm not going to improve my game anymore now, now it's just about relaxing and getting ready. I might go down and play a game of pool, maybe throw for an hour or that. There's no more to be done," O'Connor said.

O'Connor has a very accommodating wife in Bernadette while everything he does is with the future of his children Nicole and Liam in mind and he hopes to spend Christmas at home before returning to London for another knockout tie.

At an exhibition many years ago, the current world No 46 famously hit a miraculous three-dart finish despite the board being covered by a large sheet of paper totally obscuring to him. That type of raw talent is finally hitting the mainstream after years of toil far away from any television cameras.

It has given O'Connor of taste of success which has no intention of letting go and self-confidence certainly won't be a problem as he expects to continue Limerick's extraordinary sporting year. After his defeat of Wilson he remarked that "I won't back down, I don't care what you throw at me" and he hopes that type of unbreakable mentality can see him go all the way,

"When you get success, you want more. I've got a couple of wins under my belt so what I want now is I want to win a lot of money and I want to do it fast. I know the darts are there to do that," he said.

"There's nothing I can do about what's thrown at me so there's no point worrying is there? Just get on with it and go up and beat whoever is thrown in front of me. I'll give it my best and hopefully come out the right side when the last double is thrown.

'If I take my practice game on stage I could get to the final and maybe I could win it but you've got to go out and do it, talk is cheap. I can go all the way. I have the game to go all the way so we'll just wait and see how it goes."

With a name like the 'Magpie', who knows what waits around the corner.

  • World Darts Championship, Live, Sky Sports, 12.30

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