Mick McGowan: ‘The days when guys could be on the stage with pints in front of them, it’s good to have moved on from there’

Mick McGowan lost at the Ally Pally yesterday, but after injury and illness, he was delighted to be back on the big stage oche.
Mick McGowan: ‘The days when guys could be on the stage with pints in front of them, it’s good to have moved on from there’

Mick McGowan qualified for his third PDC World Darts Championships by winning the Tom Kirby Memorial Irish Matchplay Trophy in October. Yesterday, at Alexandra Palace, he beat China’s Qiang Sun 2-0 in the Preliminary Round, before bowing out 3-0 to Welshman Mark Webster.

Q: You struggled with a shoulder injury coming up to the championships, is that a hazard of the darts game?

A:

Pretty much. I’m a long time at it now and, over the years, it’s just wear and tear building up. It’s regular enough. A lot of darts players, over time, develop shoulder problems. I’ve been attending the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry the last couple of months and they’ve been working with me, doing physio, and doing a great job. It’s been fine in the last couple of weeks, so I’ve been able to throw for an hour and half or two hours every day.

Q: This is your third time at the PDC Worlds. The highlights of your career?

A:

Without a doubt, yeah. As with any sport, I suppose, World Championships is the pinnacle. It’s a fantastic event. It’s my second time at the Ally Pally. The first time was Christmas 2006 in the Circus Tavern in Purfleet. It was small, but had a great atmosphere because the crowd are up so close to you. But the Alexandra Palace atmosphere is brilliant.

Q: The Ally Pally is a madhouse though. Is all that ‘stand up if you love the darts’ stuff not a bit off-putting?

A:

That’s for the fans. To be honest, as a player, it’s not off-putting in itself. You’re concentrating on your own job. That’s what we all play for, to get there, so you have to give it your best when you do. I’ve played in all the big venues at this stage and enjoyed it. The fans create a great atmosphere.

Q: Any particular mental techniques you use to help stay focussed?

A:

It sort of comes naturally, but it is something you work on a little bit. Try and sustain your concentration levels for longer periods of time. It’s not all about standing at a dartboard and throwing. You’re as much practising the mental side, the concentration side, as anything else. There are no tricks, really. You just try and put yourself in match positions and try and practice coping in tight situations.

Q: You lost to Phil Taylor in 2006/07. Was it daunting facing the greatest ever player?

A:

I played pretty well, took the first set. But unfortunately I lost 4-1, not down, I think, to any great mistakes I made, but just Phil being Phil. The legend he is, just came back stronger and had too much. It was quite a good match. They were all close sets. I didn’t lose any of them 3-0. The score probably didn’t reflect how close it was. In that game, he set the highest average for the whole tournament and I set the second highest. That’ll tell you the standard.

Q: Many players have walked away thinking they played well against Phil Taylor, yet lost...

A:

Yeah, that’s the nature of Phil. I had just played him over in Holland in a competition and managed to pip him at the post, but Phil being Phil, you don’t go one up on him for too long.

Q: He’s 55 now, so at 42, you’re only a young fella on the way up?

A:

In comparison to him…. it is one of those sports where you can sustain a high level a lot longer than other sports, but some of the young guys coming up… Michael van Gerwen is only 26. Michael Smith. They’re coming through thick and fast.

Since Barry Hearn (PDC chairman) came into the game, prize money has increased, so it’s become a much more popular sport for young people. They’re making careers of it from a young age. It’s improved everyone’s standards, including Phil Taylor’s. He’s probably playing better than he ever did.

Q: What is the standard like in Ireland compared to when you started?

A:

It’s unrecognisable. There are a lot of good players. On the PDC side, you have Brendan Dolan from Fermanagh (beaten 3-0 by Australia’s Kyle Anderson last night), who was number 12 in the world up to a couple of months ago; Mickey Mansell from Tyrone is in the top 50, William O’Connor from Limerick is around there too. In the BDO too, on the BBC, our lads are competing at a strong level. And there are so many guys coming through. The young chap from Roscommon, David Concannon, won the (WDF) European singles championship. Keane Barry, who is only 15, is the number one youth in the country. Phenomenal standard. Robyn Byrne, the young Dublin girl, won the World Masters U18.

The game is in great shape here and appears to be getting better and better.

Q: It is a more glamourous prospect for youngsters nowadays. Perhaps it declined for a while after the Eric Bristow/Jocky Wilson era?

A:

Yeah, it did. It wasn’t really seen as mainstream. But since Barry Hearn got involved, he’s brought us much more to the forefront. It’s cleaned up its act from the early days as well.

As you mention, those days with Bristow and Jocky Wilson, guys could be up on the stage with pints in front of them. It’s good to have moved on from there. Like any other sport, it’s a very professional job now. If you want to do well, you have to dedicate yourself. Again, that probably stems from Phil Taylor. For all Barry Hearn has done to bring the game along, it would never be possible without Phil Taylor. He’s dragged the game up by its shirttails. No doubt about that.

Q: You hit a nine darter at the Kilkenny All- Ireland Open in 2003 — just the third Irishman in history to do so. Have there been many since?

A:

There hasn’t been that many. I’ve done a few in small competitions, here and there, and obviously many in practice. There hasn’t been that many flying in around the country, but it’s like everything else, over the last five years on television, like the 147 break in snooker, they’re coming thick and fast.

You’ll probably see two or three at least in this year’s World Championship. I think they will soon be more more regular in Irish darts as well. The standards are getting so high.

Q: You disappeared off the scene for a while recently?

A:

I was off the circuit four or five years. My form had dipped and I hadn’t been well. I discovered I had a blood disorder, haemochromatosis, where you’ve too much of an iron build-up in your system. That left me feeling quite unwell for a while but it’s been sorted now. I’m in good shape physically, thank God.

I play now with a local pub team in The Milestone in Balbriggan. It’s a bit of fun, getting away from the serious side of things.

Q: Winning the Irish Matchplay championship in October must have been a great relief.

A:

It was special in itself because it’s the Tom Kirby Memorial Matchplay. Tom was the first Irish player to cross the water to try his luck on the PDC circuit. He was a very good friend and introduced me to the circuit and showed me the ropes.

Unfortunately, Tom passed away a few years ago through illness so to win that alone was a special moment for me. To get me back over to the Ally Pally again was extra special.

Q: What’s next?

I’m going back to the UK in January to the Q-School. It operates very similar to the golf in that way. You must hold a tour card to play on the professional circuit every year so I’m going over to try and win my tour card back. Hopefully we can kick on from here.

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