One of the biggest amateur darts events in Northern Ireland, with over 200 players from across the UK and Ireland, was held in Belfast at the weekend.
Household names, including BDO World Championship and World Masters runner-up Dean Winstanley and 23rd in the world Jamie Caven, competed in the Belfast Open, a two-day tournament, which begins with 32 groups of five players, first challenging in round-robin games, with the last 64 going through to the final stages, with a £1500 prize for the overall winner.
The Belfast Open’s double winner Winstanley, who beat Coalisland man Mickey Mansell 6-2 on Saturday and Dave Pallett 6-0 on Sunday, said: “It was really tough, you’re throwing all day so the tiredness kicked in after a while.
“I know Mickey well from the PDC circuit, so I know what he’s capable of. I think the experience counts for a lot in these day and weekend-long events.
“The competition itself is excellent, too, very well-organised and a good challenge.
“It gives a lot to people who can throw darts as well as we can, but don’t compete at our level. There are lots of players here who I think could do really well on the circuit but it comes down to confidence and the costs involved.
“It’s my first time here at the Belfast Open and I’m really enjoying it. I’m in Ireland for 20 or 25 days a year, working at exhibitions, and one tied in with this so it was a good opportunity to come down and win twice on my debut.”
The players warmed up with a double-in, double-out format on Friday evening, where Pallett beat James Richardson, who only last year was edged out of the Players Championship by fellow PDC pro and Premier League thrower, Peter Wright.
He said: “I really enjoy this tournament, it’s a great idea. I came along last year and I lost in the final on the Saturday, and the last 16 on Sunday, but it was good fun. My son, Josh, is playing in the Youth PDC Tour in Reading, so darts is in the family!”
Organiser Keith Beale was pleased with the encouraging uptake and interest in the event: “I thought Belfast needed a big tournament as the only one we have in Northern Ireland is the NI Open, but it’s a tournament for NI Darts Organisation registered players only and I wanted to start one open to men and women, of all ages, and, if they are affiliated with any organisation, either PDC or BDO, they’d be very welcome.
“I put it on Facebook initially, to see what level of interest would be. I held my first event last year but this one is much bigger, with more at stake in terms of prize money.
“We like the longer, best of 11 formats, which help to keep things as close to the PDC rules as possible. It’s also more competitive for the players.”
Kelly McGivern, a member of Greenwell Ladies in Newtownards, played on both days and says it’s the biggest mixed competition she’s participated in.
“There are other events but quite often, the ladies’ and men’s contests are separate.
“I think it’s a great way of bringing on ladies’ darts. We practice with the men regularly, because their standard is generally higher, so it’s fantastic to go against them competitively.”