By Tim Adams
Centuries ago, King Henry VIII told his archers to sharpen up their accuracy by throwing their arrows instead. After a display of dart-throwing prowess fit for royalty, it seems clear that the Uni Dartsity 2017 team received that same message.
To throw a piece of metal from nine feet, seven and three-quarter inches sounds to be a simple job. To consistently find the target under the enormous stress of competition, and to do so in front of nearly 1,000 expecting fans, however, is quite a different profession.
Still, how could such an easily accessible pastime create such high drama? Danny Hall’s four perfect darts, Greg Batting’s last ditch doubles and Ed McCosh’s winning parting gift told a tale of terrifically thrown trebles of tungsten on the biggest stage of all.
A sell-out crowd trekked up to the Octagon in the hope of witnessing history. Uni were bidding to win Dartsity for a third consecutive year since its inauguration in 2015 at Stephenson Hall.
Each university’s seven finest players battled it out amongst the heat and background drama in a bid to claim bragging rights and the ultimate prize.
Hallam had beaten Uni in their first meeting in the Northern Universities Darts League last year, but lost 8-3 in the reverse fixture just three weeks ago, and were expected to be under pressure from the get-go.
Hallam’s Dartsity rookie Kieran Fitzgibbon had other ideas. At 2-1 down, needing to break Jonathan Kirk’s throw, defeat looked likely, but in a performance of grit, courage and determination he battled back and claimed the first match on double two.
As the walk-on songs brought superheroes, Arctic wildlife and traffic cones to their feet, Charlie Marshall and Danny Hall looked to raise the roof even higher in the second match of the night.
Both players had recently impressed by reaching the knockout stage at the UDUK Darts Championships and carried that form from the off, with Hall hitting two back-to-back 140s in the first leg.
Crowd excitement rose, the noise deafening after a mid-match propulsion of exquisite scoring from Hall. Four consecutive 180s at the start of the leg (the first maximum in almost two years) put Hall in a dominant position, winning the second leg in unorthodox fashion on double five.
Stunned, Marshall responded well with a 140, his opponent with a first nine average of over 100. A double ten cut the deficit to one after Hall missed two darts for the match from an 89 checkout, but a third 140 from the Uni maestro at the start of the fourth, and an 80 finish sealed possibly the finest display in Dartsity history.
Greg Batting and Connor Bowler followed. The Hallam player had once reached a PDC Development Tour quarter-final but came up against a man who has previously hit a nine-darter.
Batting’s consistent scoring, with five consecutive scores above 60 including a 125, put him in a commanding position. Nervy doubles followed, a flurry from both players in nearly every leg creating tension in the crowd. After winning the first leg on double two though, Batting powered ahead to triumph 3-0 and gave Uni of a 2-1 lead overall.
Looking to extend that lead, Adam Warner took to the stage against Declan Parsons, confident that he could beat Hallam’s captain for the second time in just a few weeks.
Parsons hit double tops in the opening leg before Warner brought it back. As consistency on the treble beds increased, his confident demeanour was ever present. Double ten became his ally, and the Uni captain wrapped up the match 3-1 to extend the overall lead by two.
That meant McCosh, President of the Uni Darts Society and Forge alumnus, had the opportunity to replicate history, having hit the winning double in their triumph against Hallam two years ago. And he did just that. As the scoring twisted and turned against Hallam’s Joe Berry, McCosh stayed calm with his last dart in the first leg on double ten.
The green felt of double nine extended Uni’s lead further before a setup shot of 123 put the team within touching distance. Two tens sealed it. McCosh had done it.
Due to crowd trouble, the event ended early, but let it not distract from the tungsten on stage, which will go down in Sheffield darts folklore.
By Tim Adams