FREE PRESS FOCUS: Could our man beat darts champ Dean?

Dean Winstanley

Dean Winstanley

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ALL I can say is I really should have beat him.

I came close, really close, to defeating a man who 11 months ago was in the final of the World Darts Championship.

It might have been just one leg, but it would have been a leg of darts I would have no doubt spoken about for the rest of my life.

There I was in a pub playing darts with Dean Winstanley, the down to earth Conisbrough darts ace who emerged from seemingly nowhere last year to be ranked number one in the world and reach the BDO World Championship final at Lakeside.

My darting experience consisted of games in the garage as a teenager and now the odd ten minute spells on a board on the back of a door in my flat.

The night before I went arrow to arrow with the 30-year-old, his opponent was five time world champion Raymond van Barneveld in front of a packed crowd at the Grand Slam of Darts, live on Sky Sports.

Barneveld could not beat Winstanley either, so there was some comfort for me there.

I headed across to Winstanley’s new base in Buxton – where he lives with partner, BDO womens player Lorraine Farlam – to throw a few arrows and talk about the last 12 months which has seen him follow up his Lakeside heroics with several tournament wins plus a place in the final of the prestigious Winmau World Masters.

“I’ve had a really good year,” he said between legs.

“I kept my number one spot throughout the BDO year and up until about eight weeks ago.

“I’m really happy with how I’ve been going.”

That fateful leg with the Yorkshire County star began with two consecutive 100 visits from me with my lofty opponent perhaps a little slow off the mark. The pace slowed a little after this but I managed to get into a finishing position before things went horribly wrong.

Probably a lot to do with nerves I would reckon as darts suddenly went wayward.

I wanted to hit single five with my final dart of the visit to leave double top with Winstanley breathing down my neck.

I hit double top.

So now I was left with the nightmare of double two, but I had company as Dean needed it as well.

Needless to say, he beat me to it.

I tried not to show how gutted I was at fluffing my chance, or how much it would have meant to me to win.

I’m not sure I was very successful.

After that, I never really put together a decent run of scoring to ever trouble Dean who threw superbly in his last practice session before the first knockout stage of the Grand Slam.

Winstanley had swept through his group, winning all three matches against Barneveld, Ted Hankey and Ian White to scoop a guaranteed £10,000.

A night after our meeting he would lose out 10-9 to eventual semi finalist Mark Walsh in a brilliant 19 leg affair.

He said: “It’s been an unbelievable experience, to win three out of three was brilliant.

“That crowd is amazing and I loved being up there.”

His invitation to the Grand Slam – which sees the best of the PDC alongside the elite from the more historic but now quieter BDO – came after reaching the World Championship final.

And his eye-catching performance in Wolverhampton has seen his profile skyrocket, and the talk of a switch to the more lucrative but intense PDC is stronger than ever.

But the laid-back father of five takes it all in his stride.

“Every interview I do and any time someone talks to me about darts, the PDC question comes up,” he said.

“It’s a thought in the New Year and that’s all I can say really.

“We’ll see how I go in the World Championship and if it goes, it goes.”

Winstanley will return to Lakeside in January for his second World Championship appearance and there is only one thing on his mind.

“I’m going there to win it this year,” he said. “I was happy to make my debut there and see how it went so I’ve had a taste.

“I know now I can go up there and throw the big scores so I’d love to take the trophy home.

“That’s my goal and I’ll be disappointed if I don’t achieve it.”

He faces Dutchman Joey ten Berge in the first round at Lakeside, which begins on January 7.

Before that are a growing number of exhibitions and several tournaments – including a trip to Holland for the Zuiderduin Masters – all mixed in with work for his property maintenance firm in Buxton.

Plus league matches in the competition closest to Winstanley’s heart.

He continues to represent the Castle Club at Conisbrough in the Doncaster Monday Night League.

He said: “I love my Monday nights in Doncaster, just to get back to what’s normal.

“To me that league has got me where I am today.

“I’ll always support it and wouldn’t ever dream of leaving it, whatever happens. It’s the best league I’ve ever played in.”

In our last leg, Dean was well ahead when I landed a 140 to move into a finishing position.

“Pressure darts,” he said as he stepped up to the oche.

Two perfect darts followed before he turned and confidently said: “I thrive on pressure.”

And his last dart landed square in double 16.

He spun laughed, and said: “It’s a good job I hit that or I would have looked like a right idiot!”