Followers of the European Tour have certainly enjoyed their fair share of drama, excitement, big-name winners and upsets during this campaign. The season consists of a dozen legs played across major European cities with many of the matches shown live on TV or the PDC website and mobile app. It’s not the biggest darts event of the year, but it is one that is very well followed by lovers of the sport as it boasts the top players in the world as well as emerging talent.
The line-up presents the top from the PDC Pro Tour Order of Merit test their skills against players from six regional qualifiers and although many legs go as expected, with the PDC stars coming out on top, we do see a couple of entertaining upsets and shock results. That is usually due to the main names on the programme dropping their standards in preparation for bigger and better tests on the horizon but we also get a glimpse into the future on occasion, seeing the rising talent and stars of the future make a name for themselves by showing just what they can do.
The prize fund for each leg of the European Tour currently stands at £140,000, with £25,000 of that paid to the winner and that usually ensures the likes of Michael van Gerwen, Peter Wright, Rob Cross and Glen Durrant give the matches their full attention.
MVG Gets the Ball Rolling with Narrow Win
The season got underway with a predictable win for Dutch ace Michael van Gerwen who beat Ian White in the Austrian Darts Open back in May of this year at Premstatten, claiming the prize thanks to an 8-7 score. It was an enjoyable opener and one that set the pace for what was to come. Daryl Gurney beat Ricky Evans at the German Championship by a score of 8-6 and we then saw Michael van Gerwen return to the summit when seeing off Rob Cross in March at the European Darts Open in Germany.
Mighty was flying at that time but he was unable to win the Dutch Masters for a sixth year on the bounce, that title picked up by Ian White who nicked a hard-fought 8-7 win over the home star in the final. MVG has five Dutch Masters in the bank and we’re confident he will be back for more in the coming years. It’s a competition he enjoys playing in and the fans just can’t get enough of him when he returns to his home nation.
Pre Tournament Favourite
The 2019 Austrian Darts Championship was the first outing of this new event added to the schedule and it was played between 30 August and 1 September in Vienna. Michael van Gerwen was the pre-tournament favourite to book his place in the history books by becoming the first-ever winner but he was, again, edged out in the final. Mighty lost that match to local Mensur Suljovic by a score of 8-7 in what went down as one of the biggest upsets of the season so far. It was an enjoyable match, especially for neutrals, but it served as a reminder to sports bettors just how unpredictable the European Tour can be. Backing the favourite each week isn’t a guaranteed money maker, that’s for sure. Much more effort is needed if you are to get the better of bookies and come out of the season with profit in your pockets.
With the scene set, attention turned to the European Matchplay competition in Mannheim last weekend, with the final taking place on Sunday evening. It was a typically frantic opening couple of rounds with players desperate to hit the ground running. Michael van Gerwen, as is so often the case, was favourite with bookmakers to claim the trophy going into the play and there was no shortage of punters rushing to back the Dutchman with their hard-earned cash. He has blown hot and cold going into the weekend, however, having already secured a share of European Tour title wins, so there was a decent price available about him living up to expectations.
A Winning Start
The jolly got off to a winning start when laying down a marker to beat Mensur Suljovic 6-4 in the afternoon session and that revenge mission helped settle any nerves in the favourites’ camp while boosting confidence. He was handed a tricky opening tie and it would’ve been a shame for fans if he had bowed out at the first opportunity, but MVG was professional and had more than enough in reserve to come through the match unscathed. Another early eye-catcher was Joe Cullen who beat William O’Connor 6-3 in the third round. Those watching the action unfold didn’t know it at the time but Michael van Gerwen and Joe Cullen were to be their two finalists this year.
The evening session saw the quarter-finals take place and Michael van Gerwen again had to roll up his sleeves and battle for the victory when getting a 6-5 result over a hard-working Krzysztof Ratajski in the first match. That gave us an idea of what was to come and each of the evening’s games was tight and enjoyable to watch. Dave Chisnall beat Rob Cross 6-5, James Wade had enough about him to get the better of Jonny Clayton by a 6-4 scoreline and it looked like Joe Cullen was hitting his stride when recording the most impressive win of the night to beat Glen Durrant 6-2.
Flying Out of the Traps
The semi-finals were interesting to watch and, after making a meal of his earlier work, van Gerwen flew out of the traps to hammer Dave Chisnall 7-1 and book his place in the final. Punters who had MVG booked to win the prize would have been forgiven for counting their cash at that point and ignoring the cash out option offered, thinking their man was a champion in-waiting. He learned his opponent in the final when seeing Joe Cullen prove his class to beat an always dangerous James Wade in the second semi-final, the scoreboard reading 7-5.
The thinking going into the final was that Michael van Gerwen had hit form at exactly the right time and didn’t break a sweat in the semi-final, so would be in a fantastic position to go on and bank the winner’s cheque. Professional darts, especially on the PDC European Tour, doesn’t always follow the intent script and it certainly didn’t go to plan in the European Darts Matchplay Final. Joe Cullen was fantastic, upsetting the pre-match betting and the predictions of many experts to win the title courtesy of an 8-5 result. Much of the crowd couldn’t believe just what they had witnessed but they were appreciative of their new champion and agreed the better player on the day won the match.
Maiden European Tour title for Joe Cullen
In winning that prize, Joe Cullen landed his maiden European Tour title of the season on Sunday night. It was only the Bradford man’s third-ranking title of his career and he couldn’t have planned it any better, coming in a major competition with a sizeable audience and against the biggest name in the sport at the minute. Few gave him a chance of reaching the final, let alone beating MVG, but Cullen believed in his own ability and knew that if he stuck to his game plan, played his best darts and took advantage of any slips in his opponent’s play, he would be in line for the shock.
To make his success even more remarkable, Sunday’s effort was not only his first European Tour winner’s prize, but it was also the first time he had reached a final. A baptism of fire against Mighty who had raged to victory in his own semi but we believe we saw a sign of things to come from Joe Cullen and now he has eventually claimed that maiden win we are sure there will be plenty more to come. Shaking off the burden of never having won on tour is an important milestone in a player’s career and if he can repeat the efforts of that day there’s no reason why the major titles won’t come thick and fast for super Joe Cullen in the remainder of 2019 and beyond.
A Shocking Outcome
There’s no denying it was a shock result, but the early warning signs were there for Michael van Gerwen who was reminded at his opponent’s first visit to the oche that he was in a competitive match. Cullen took his place at the line and banged in a 180 to start things off, sending out a message of intent and getting the crowd up onto their feet early. What followed was remarkable stuff with Cullen winning four of the first five legs to slip into a commanding 4-1 lead. The most notable move in the early exchanges was Joe’s 14 darter to break the throw and flow of his opponent and he certainly caught Michael’s attention when doing that.
Van Gerwen had to react with the pressure on and he did so to pull things back to 4-2. There would have been more than a few sports bettors laying their cash down in-running on MVG firing back to win the match but that was immediately stamped out when Cullen held his nerve to win the seventh and open a 5-2 advantage. The crowd went wild and, at that point, it was obvious we were about to witness one of the greatest upsets of the European Tour season. A 170 checkout sparked incredible scenes in the stands and that just heaped more confidence on the leader.
Never Write Off Van Gerwen
It is never a good idea to write MVG off and he was at his best, perhaps annoyed at himself to fall behind so emphatically, reeling off three winning legs on the bounce and, in an instant, we had a game on our hands again. The scoreboard read 5-5 and everyone in the arena believed MVG who stage a late smash and grab on the title. Well, almost everyone. Not once did a moment of self-doubt cross Joe Cullen’s mind and he got the rewards.
The eventual champion edged back in front thanks to successive 13 darters. MVG wobbled down the home straight and was made to pay a heavy price by his opponent who rose to the pressure and answered the call. An 88 finish landed the prize money and a whopping £25,000 cheque. Just as important as the money and title for Cullen, however, was the fact he had shown the wider world just what he was capable of.
A New Champion
Speaking to the press following that jaw-dropping victory, Joe Cullen couldn’t hide his excitement. He told of the amazing feeling that comes with beating a man of Michael van Gerwen’s talents and wasn’t shy in labelling it the biggest moment in his career so far.
The new champion added that he had been threatening to win a tournament for a while now and he genuinely believed he was going to come good this weekend, unable to see how anyone could beat him in that frame of mind.