Q School 2012 a Preview by The Suit

Well after the success of Q School graduates from 2011, interest in 2012 seems to have exploded and perhaps we should not be surprised. These are interesting times in Pro Darts and with the recent upheaval in the BDO, and players like Mark Hylton or James Richardson proof that you don’t need a huge pedigree to make it. This may be the year for any aspiring players to make their mark.

We at Let’s Play Knockout Darts had a strong interest in last years Q School and therefore paid close attention to the whole process, it was superb to watch and genuinely gripping. However it was quite traumatic at times with friends having to knock each other out, and those with huge amounts at stake suffering in front of our eyes.

Luckily one of the key sources of contention last year, the zero points for a bye scenario, is being removed, so it will just be down to the best 4 players each day and the numbers of cards available in the order of merit list. Points are achieved by winning legs, (1 point per leg) and the remaining cards are awarded to the highest placed players on the ranking list. Also, with the increase in field size, the number of friend v friend games may also be reduced.

As many as 36 cards are expected to be given out this year which is one in every four or five entries, therefore for those not reaching semi-final spots and achieving automatic cards, it will be vital to pinch every leg each day, to increase the chance of a high finishing place on the Q School order of merit.

We noticed last year that although a very friendly and open competition, there were a lot of very distinct groups participating and the same is true of this year’s list. Let’s have a look at a few.

The Names

This year see’s the first group of what could be classed as names, former greats, etc. These include Peter Manley, Wayne Mardle, Peter Evison, Alan Warriner- Little & Chris Mason all hoping to recapture brighter days. It is without doubt a double edged sword being in this category, despite the advantage of experience, and possible intimidation of some opponents, these names will inspire players to pull out all the stops and claim a famous scalp.

It will be very tough indeed, to this end Wayne appears to have pulled out already. Peter Manley did not fare well at the Grand Slam qualifier and although seemingly playing well, does not seem to survive the distance. The dark horses here are Mason and Warriner-Little, Alan seems to have stayed away from the limelight despite having new darts developed for him and should be watched closely. Chris the King of self promotion has received more attention for his comeback effort, although I suggest that success for Chris will have to come early on day one or two.

A Tale of Two Cities?

Ever since the rush of the Birmingham/West Midland boys, in 2010, the strength of certain areas in darts has been apparent. This year will see two areas in particular making what could almost be labelled as a team effort.

The group from the Oxford area sees quite a few lads who have played a lot together, and supported each other make their attempt at the summit; Martin Perring, Ian Moss, Chris Aubrey, Richard North and Johnny Haines (Dennis Smith’s occasional touring partner) are amongst a very dangerous group of players. We met many at our Find-a-Pro event last year and it is superb to see their darting careers progressing in the right direction.

Meanwhile in the world capital of darts, Stoke on Trent, another group seeks to write the next chapter of darting success for the region that does not seem to quit. Mark Frost will lead a group of quality players from Stokes next generation, Andy Pearce and Daz Whittingham have had their moments on the Tour already, but it could be the lesser known players such as Gareth Pass, Jamie Landon, Fred Smith or Chris Dale who cause some to sit up and take note. If one or more of these players succeed you can be sure the rest will not want to be left out! They will all desperately want to join the list of Phil Taylor, Ade Lewis, Andy Hamilton, Ian White & now Ted Hankey all with 2012 tour cards!

The Young Ones

After the huge success of the fearless youngsters at last year’s event (Sean Griffiths in particular), and throughout the season, it is no surprise to see plenty of under 21 entries again this year. Jamie Landon & Chris Aubrey as previously mentioned are joined by the likes of Jamie Atkins, Josh Jones, James Thompson, the appropriately named James Young, and the exciting Ash Kayat.

Established youth and tour players Adam Hunt and Co Stompe Jnr are all appearing, making our own Ryan Herrington look a veteran at the tender age of 21! Based on the previous success of these young players, none should be overlooked. Ash has won singles and doubles titles this year, Co has won Youth Tour events and James Thompson has even partnered Mark Hylton to a doubles triumph!

This however may be a different year for the young stars, it will take more wins and very consistent play to get an automatic card this year and fearlessness alone will not suffice. I suspect a dose of reality may kick in with the some of the young ones having to serve more apprenticeship time.

Second Chances

After 2 years of playing with the Tour Card system hanging over them, a number of seasoned players will be back to make a fresh start, firstly at qualifying and then at a career in professional darts. It may not be all doom and gloom. Starting again with a new perspective and new targets can often be a big motivation, and for some who have served the PDC and darts with distinction for quite some time, another crack at it seems more than deserved. These include Nik Fullwell, Darren Webster, Dave Honey, Andy Relf, Steve Grubb, Kevin Dowling, Mick McGowen, Wayne Atwood and Dave Ladley.

The Class of 2011

Many players who just missed in the Q School last year or just kept their tour card during the 2010 season could be said to be also gaining a second chance.  It is a little harsh as some have performed very well and only participated in a limited number of events due to being associate members. Matt Edgar, Matt Padgett and Andy Hutchings fit this group; Reece Robinson has been lifted out at the last minute and given his card. Will Q School experience count and will the guys be that bit more determined and perhaps more fortunate this year!

The BDO Exodus

It is heavily rumoured that in addition to those who accept the Tour Cards offered to the Lakeside top four, many big and smaller names are finally jumping ship to the PDC. Dean Winstanley is confirmed and has proved a class act so far, but seems to suffer a little from final fence syndrome.

The West brothers include a major semi-finalist and seem to be working to a plan. Others may yet decide that it’s now or never! It should be remembered that Daryl Fitton still holds one of the top averages ever seen on TV, despite a fall from the limelight, recently we have seen indications of that sort of form returning. Scott Waites surely should have crossed while in the very best of form, but should succeed if he decides to enter the fray.

Overall the BDO lads may find it harder work this year, the standard is much stronger and there are more of them crossing over together, and on the day it will be every man for himself and I don’t foresee all making it straight through like Chizzy, Hendo and Pecker last year.

The Dark Horse?

For the last couple of years a relatively unknown player has come through and made a relatively big impact within the PDC, this year people will be looking at all the big names such as Hankey and Winstanley, but who will sneak through under the radar and take it by the scruff of the neck in 2012?

This should be known as The `Hylton/Richardson’ Award and be made available to anyone who exceeds the expectations of the masses in their debut year! This year it will be very hard to single any player out prior to Q School, buts let’s have a go……

Gareth Pass and Johnny Haines, both quality players who many will know from open events and previous skirting of PDC darts. Neither is exactly a total newcomer, but both are quality players who are not overawed by anyone and both of whom have come a long way in terms of experience in the tough darts areas of Oxford and Stoke. Good luck both and let’s hope they keep up an honourable tradition!

In summary Q School 2012 is looking like an event not to be missed, huge stars, high pressure and enormous personal pride. This combined with the huge range of talent, style and temperament makes for a four day darting bonanza.

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