Sunday 13 December 2020

Section 16 - Gurney, O'Connor, Zonneveld, Dobey, Smith, Barry


Our final top 16 seed is Daryl Gurney, who heads up a very Irish section of the draw with three players from the island featuring. Interesting year for Daryl - while he didn't win anything, the closest he got to winning something being a good UK Open run, beating Keegan Brown, potential opponent Willie O'Connor, Peter Wright and Jelle Klaasen before running into van Gerwen doing 110 average things, the general level of play from Gurney appears to have risen overall, and while he's probably not going to get back into the Premier League, he at least seems to be trending back in the right direction. Gurney had a few good runs on the Pro Tour, with a semi final as part of a very good Summer Series, which was backed up the day after by a quarter final, one of two in the year, but an inability to claim a title would force him into the Grand Slam qualifier where he'd fall to Ricky Evans.

While his floor form is fine, and while he was also able to get one decent run in Europe with a quarter final in Hildesheim beating Clemens and Durrant, elsewhere it's mostly been early exits in the majors. Joe Cullen knocked him out of the first round of the Grand Prix, Mensur Suljovic did the same at the European Championship, and Callan Rydz got through a scrappy opening tie at the Players Championship Finals. That leaves Gurney's only major victory this year after the UK Open as a routine win at the Matchplay over Ricky Evans, only to be on the wrong side of an equally routine game against Vincent van der Voort. I don't think any of these players are at a top ten level, they're all either just about top 16, or not even that, and are the sorts of games Gurney needs to be winning if he wants to remain in that area of the rankings himself. It's not an awful section of the draw to be in at least.

One potential opponent for Daryl is Willie O'Connor, who is here for a fourth time after nearly knocking out Gerwyn Price last year, only losing in additional legs in the final set. Willie's around the fringes of the top 32 and a bit of a run here would certainly help his case. Willie's highlight was clearly the European Championship - an event he shouldn't have been at, he only got the call up due to Glen Durrant being unable to play, but Willie took his chances and knocked out Joe Cullen, the number one seed, in a scrappy affair, before routing Jamie Hughes to reach the quarters, James Wade being a bit too strong at that point. Willie had enough from two "beat qualifier, lose to seed" runs in Europe to be number 33 in the rankings, losing out to Rob Cross and Nathan Aspinall, and adding that on to a solid enough Pro Tour season sees O'Connor in as the tenth player in the Pro Tour rankings.

O'Connor also did alright at the UK Open, beating Jan Dekker and Dave Chisnall before that aforementioned game with Gurney, and his floor game was enough to get him into the Players Championship Finals, getting a middling seed and losing out in a fun close game to Dirk van Duijvenbode where both players averaged 100. Floor highlights included a semi final in the Winter Series, taking out Wade, Clayton and Searle before ending up on the wrong side against Gerwyn Price (although the averages were somewhat similar), and it'd be Price again who'd end his run in his next best appearance, a quarter final earlier in the year. Willie didn't have too many early exits, and those that did show up were generally as a result of running into a decent player, so I don't think there's too many worries about his level of play.

Willie's opponent will be Niels Zonneveld, who had a fairly similar average throughout the year on the Pro Tour, and the young Dutchman has half a chance of retaining his tour card after coming through the PDPA qualifier to claim one of the two spots for the rest of the world - beating the in form Krzysztof Kciuk, former Lakeside champion Jelle Klaasen and then Martin Schindler to book his Ally Pally debut. Niels certainly seems to be hitting form at the right time - having stunned James Wade in the Players Championship to book a big TV win, albeit he then lost heavily to van Duijvenbode in the following match. Niels also did well to get to the last 64 of the UK Open, beating Andy Hamilton and Mickey Mansell before Rob Cross was a bit too good.

Niels didn't qualify for any of the European events, so despite his floor form being enough to get him into the PC finals, he needed the backdoor of the PDPA qualifier. That's not necessarily his fault - he's generally been doing enough to get up to a player that's better than him, and coming up a bit short. He's lost to Cullen, Heta, Wright, Chisnall, Lowe, Gurney, van Gerwen, White, Whitlock, Michael Smith, Durrant, Dolan, Hughes, Petersen, Wright again... there's been the occasional slip up against a comparable opponent, but he's more or less been beating who he should beat. He's doing enough that the first round game is certainly one he has a chance in, and who knows after that?

Seems like it's been a pretty rough year for Chris to tell the truth. After last season's run to the last sixteen, it's mostly been struggles to get results, even if statistically he looks fine. Dobey's been flirting on or around the cutoff for majors for what seems like forever now, as indicated by him missing the Matchplay but making the Grand Prix, unable to finally breakthrough and get a first win on the tour. Dobey's highlight was the UK Open, where he won a match of the year candidate against Krzysztof Ratajski in his first game, easily dispatched Simon Whitlock, but at the last sixteen phase came up a little short against Jonny Clayton. Those would be the only TV wins for Chris - while he made the Grand Prix, he was severely out of sorts against Whitlock in the opener, and while he didn't play badly against Madars Razma in the Players Championship Finals, he would come up short when it came down to claiming actual legs.

Dobey didn't make any of the other events - missing out on Oberhausen with just three grand in the bank from Europe, beating Ryan Murray before losing to Clayton in one, and losing to O'Connor in the other, and the Grand Slam wildcard qualifier saw Chris lose early to Joe Murnan. On the floor, Chris was able to make a couple of quarter finals, the first looking good earlier in the season, beating Kuivenhoven (who was a lot better at the time), Suljovic and Bunting before van Gerwen was too good, the second was in the Summer Series, again Michael would knock him out, but not before a good win over Dimitri was in the bank. Perhaps the worrying thing is the Winter Series - just two wins in it (over Reece Robinson and Ryan Meikle), losing every other game and generally not to seeded players apart from the last one to Cullen, with averages well below what we know Dobey is capable of. He often raises his game in this event, and he may well need to here given his draw.

One potential opponent is Jeff Smith, the Canadian former Lakeside finalist who won his tour card outright on day 3 of the UK version of Q-School, notably beating Alan Norris early then a last couple of wins over William Borland and Seigo Asada. Jeff would come absolutely flying out of the blocks, making it all the way to the final of his very first event back as a card holder, defeating Dave Chisnall in the first round, then later beating van Duijvenbode, Aspinall, Wright and Dolan, just falling short in the final to Gary Anderson. Not a bad way to start the year, Smith would win his board the day after, one of four times he did that - the next being in the Summer Series, where only MvG in the semis prevented Jeff making a second final, Jeff beating Wright and Aspinall again in the earlier stages, while the latter was beating routine opponents in the Winter Series. Ending up where he has done on the Pro Tour is no fluke as we know what Jeff can do, and he can be reasonably happy with his results this year.

I suppose the disappointment is that there wasn't more - Jeff only made the one Euro Tour event, just beating Franz Roetzsch before losing a good game against Mensur Suljovic, and while he was within striking distance of the two difficult majors to qualify for after his start, he couldn't quite get another run going to really stand a chance. He ran into Ian White early in the Grand Slam qualifier, and while he had the cash in the bank to make the Players Championship Finals, he opted to go home for a bit and avoid any sort of potential travel bullshit, preparing himself for the bigger event round the corner. Given who he's drawn, that may well be a clever bit of strategising.

Our final player to cover is the young player of the year from last season's TA awards, Keane Barry. The highly rated Irish youngster has qualified as a result of his performances on the Development Tour - Keane topped the averages in that series by a clear point, winning two titles back to back (on different days though), beating Ryan Meikle twice, made another final where he lost to Kevin Doets, and this was more than enough to get Keane here, and also give him his tour card for the next two years after coming up one game short, losing to Scott Waites in the final round on the final day. Keane showed enough in the averages on that day to say that he's one of the best players without a tour card (he was in the top ten in the averages, and five of the players there won one, only Scott Mitchell, Jim Williams, Leonard Gates and Ryan Furness missed out with Barry). That's been rectified, and Keane will want to get a first win in the senior worlds after losing to Vincent van der Voort this time last season.

Keane's also played a fair bit of senior darts this year, finishing in the top ten of the Challenge Tour rankings, winning event five, making another semi final and quarter final to boot. That gave Keane a high enough Challenge Tour ranking (he finished third) to get into the Winter Series and get a first taste of the Pro Tour. Keane averaged 94 during that week, and won a board and grabbed eight match wins overall, no real notable scalps, but he pushed some very good players who he lost to hard and the experience will do him a world of good. The only real disappointment for Keane is that he couldn't go any further in the World Youth Championship, where he lost to Martin Schindler in a deciding leg at the last sixteen stage. Nevertheless, Barry is already an extremely dangerous opponent, and this will be one of the ties of the first round.

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