FLIGHT OF THE BIG LAD

Carnew’s Martin Murphy on mak­ing it in the big time

Bray People - - SPORT - BREN­DAN LAWRENCE Sports Ed­i­tor

IN KITCHENS across Ire­land there is usu­ally some­thing that oc­cu­pies the fo­cal point of the room, the cen­tre­piece of the home or the heart if you like.

For some it might be a tele­vi­sion, for oth­ers a ra­dio, years ago it might have been a holy pic­ture tow­er­ing above the ta­ble or for more it might be a spe­cial pic­ture, a trea­sured me­mory.

But in the Murphy house at the be­gin­ning of the Straight Mile be­tween Carnew and Shil­le­lagh the heart of the kitchen is the dart­board.

A strip of tape, long worn to a few measly crumbs is stuck to the lino ex­actly 115.25 inches di­ag­o­nally from the board and it is on this home­made oche that Martin Murphy po­si­tions his toe over and over and over again, night af­ter night as he fires his 25gr Les Wal­lace darts across the kitchen ta­ble.

Martin 'The Big Lad' Murphy is one of the finest darts play­ers on the is­land of Ire­land at this moment in time. Presently he sits in sec­ond in the Lad­brokes Ir­ish Darts Cham­pi­onship, a com­pe­ti­tion that features up to 80 of the top play­ers in the coun­try. He's just re­turned from Wi­gan in Eng­land where he missed out of qual­i­fy­ing from the PDC Q School due to what he calls “wiring dou­bles”.

“I played Kevin Dowl­ing and Ray Pal­frey­man. With Dowl­ing we were 3-3 but I was wiring dou­bles, miss­ing by mil­lime­tres,” be­gins Martin. “I left dou­ble 18, he fin­ished 156. I left dou­ble 16 he fin­ished 95 and I left dou­ble top and he fin­ished 86,” he added.

It's bla­tantly ob­vi­ous that the game of darts con­sumes this man. He speaks it, thinks it, knows it in­side out. The fam­ily sit­ting room is over­flow­ing with cups, tro­phies, pic­tures of him stand­ing be­side the house­hold names of darts the ma­jor­ity of whom he played and beat at ex­hi­bi­tions. Think Adrian Lewis who he de­feated 2-1 in an ex­hi­bi­tion in Car­low. Think Vin­cent Van Der Voort who he beat 2-0 in Dublin. Think Terry Jenk­ins who beat the Carnew man 2-1 in Carnew. Think Phil 'The Power' Tay­lor, although some years ago now, who he took on in an ex­hi­bi­tion and against whom he fared very com­pe­tently.

“I got down to a fin­ish,” re­mem­bers Martin. “It was a game of 701, he got four 140s and I was on 139 so I was happy enough,” he added.

For two hours most nights Martin will be found with his toe to the eroded strip of tape on the kitchen floor peg­ging darts across the ta­ble. When not here he'll be in ei­ther Car­low, Wex­ford or Carnew play­ing in county leagues and if you've no luck in ei­ther of th­ese places then you're in se­ri­ous trou­ble be­cause he could be any­where in the world com­pet­ing, striv­ing, honing, des­per­ately seek­ing the high of the 180, the dev­il­ishly ad­dic­tive dou­ble top fin­ish or the leg­endary nine-darter.

“I threw one nine-darter in my life,” he says. “It was in Carnew and I dropped to my knees with hap­pi­ness. Then I fol­lowed that up with an­other 180 and then I couldn't hit the dart­board. Ninedarters can do that to you. I've seen nine-darters lose games for play­ers. It can ruin your game on the night,” he added.

His darts ca­reer had hum­ble be­gin­nings although as the say­ing goes he didn't pick it up off the road. His fa­ther Christy was a dab hand at the game as well and he fondly re­mem­bers help­ing a team win a hand­some pot in Gorey one night many years ago.

But like all young­sters in Carnew Martin's first loves were hurl­ing and foot­ball and it was on the way home from train­ing in the field in Carnew that he first formed a long­ing for the darts.

“My­self and Stephen Hay­den used to play hurl­ing and foot­ball to­gether and we'd go into the Cor­ner House on the way home for a min­eral and we used to watch the lads play­ing in there. So one day we put our money to­gether, five pounds each and we bought a set of darts off a lad called Wayne Kil­bride. We had one set of darts be­tween us and we used to throw in the Cor­ner House two or three nights a week. It was al­ways the two of us and Stephen was very good but I kept at it.

“Then there was a fel­low called Gay Byrne at a tour­na­ment in Ar­dat­tin. I played a set against him and he asked me would I be in­ter­ested in play­ing for the county team in Car­low. I said why not, it was some­thing dif­fer­ent. From there my game just kept im­prov­ing but it was him who started me off,” he re­calls.

Kept im­prov­ing is one way to put it. At the moment Martin plays in Car­low, Wicklow and is a mem­ber of the Wex­ford County team. In Car­low he throws un­der the flag of the Dereen Inn in Tul­low along­side Ian Austin, Brian Leonard and Billy Molloy.

In Wicklow he plays for his beloved Cor­ner House and with the Wex­ford county team he's con­tested All-Ire­land fi­nals where the men of Done­gal have de­nied him success on two oc­ca­sions. And for the past 10 or 11 years he's been com­pet­ing in sin­gles tour­na­ments as his con­fi­dence has grown and grown with a high point for him­self coming in 2003 when he fea­tured on Sky Sports in a tour­na­ment against Mark Walsh.

“I missed dou­ble top to take the first set and then he took over,” he re­mem­bers and he also re­calls the at­mos­phere, the caul­dron of sound, the ten­sion, the elec­tric en­ergy in al­most all the tour­na­ments he plays in.

“I love it, I love the at­mos­phere. I played a tour­na­ment in David­stown and I won and there was only room for the dart­board and the two play­ers, ev­ery­where else there was the crowd. The feel­ing was un­be­liev­able. The best match that I ever lost was to Jacko Barry from Dublin. He beat me 5-4 and it was a real ding-dong bat­tle. It was in the Play­ers Cham­pi­onship in Mount Wolse­ley in Tul­low. The best match I won was against Philip Grace in En­field. I was down 4-2 and I checked out on 120 to break his throw and I won 54. I won that tour­na­ment out too,” he added.

But Martin wants more. He has a dream of play­ing the game pro­fes­sion­ally, of carv­ing out a liv­ing on the cir­cuit, of get­ting to a high enough stan­dard to get in­vi­ta­tions to the big tour­na­ments on the tele­vi­sion. He be­lieves he can do it but first he needs to get spon­sor­ship.

“You need a spon­sor to get to that level and I have to be at a cer­tain level to get the in­vi­ta­tions to the tour­na­ments but I could make a liv­ing from darts. This year I'm throw­ing the best darts ever so if I don't do it now I'll never do it. But get­ting spon­sor­ship is the key so go­ing to th­ese tour­na­ments won't cost you a for­tune,” he says.

Cur­rently, when not throw­ing darts, Martin works as a team leader in Kerry Foods (in­ci­den­tally he could al­most throw a dart to the fac­tory from his front door) and be­fore that he worked as a plas­terer. In his ear­lier days he was a tal­ented hurler and foot­baller and is the brother of Joe Murphy, long-time Carnew Em­mets sol­dier and Wicklow Se­nior hurl­ing stal­wart.

But al­ways since that first set that cost him and Stephen Hay­den the then mighty sum of 10 pounds there has been the darts.

“I try to prac­tice for an hour or two ev­ery night no mat­ter how busy I am. I'm throw­ing 17 years now and I've never lost in­ter­est and darts is get­ting big­ger and big­ger.

“The best at­mos­phere at any sport­ing event I ever wit­nessed was at the O2 in Dublin last year. The hairs just stood up on the back of my neck when 9,000 peo­ple were scream­ing their heads off. It was mad and the good thing about the darts is that there are very few trou­ble­mak­ers. There is no real trou­ble at darts, ever,” he says.

To any­one peg­ging darts in their room and who, like a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple, are be­com­ing in­ter­ested in the sport and who watched, as Martin did, the PDC World Cham­pi­onship on the tele­vi­sion re­cently he has some sim­ple ad­vice. “If they think they have it in the arm then they have to go for it,” he says. “Get on a team some­where, get some­one to show them the right guide­lines for train­ing. There is really only one way to find out but don't be knocked back. As I say I'm throw­ing 17 years,” he added.

The best darts match he's ever watched was this year's Adrian Lewis v Michael Van Ger­wen in the World Cham­pi­onship. The best player he's ever wit­nessed is, un­sur­pris­ingly, Phil Tay­lor. The best, and ac­cord­ing to Martin, the only darts com­men­ta­tor was the great Sid Wad­dell. Up ahead for Martin are the UK Open Qual­i­fiers in Craw­ley in Fe­bru­ary fol­lowed by the Belfast Open in April and then the World Cham­pi­onships in Au­gust. In be­tween them will be the bread and but­ter stuff, the nights spent throw­ing darts with his friends all over the coun­try. Does he ever get lonely on the road to th­ese tour­na­ments? Ab­so­lutely not he replies be­fore adding that there are some won­der­ful peo­ple in­volved in the game of darts at the moment.

A visit to Martin Murphy's house wouldn't be com­plete with­out some sort of dart throw­ing and he sets about scor­ing a 180 be­fore I leave. In­ter­est­ingly in one tour­na­ment in Kilkenny re­cently he racked up a stag­ger­ing 42 180s. Con­se­quently he won the tour­na­ment.

And if ever a man looked more at home or more com­fort­able any­where in the en­tire world then it's Martin 'The Big Lad' Murphy when he's stand­ing in front of a dart­board in his kitchen and across his face comes that search­ing look. He's seek­ing, find­ing the path for his 25gr Les Wal­laces to the se­duc­tive triple 20 slot. Oc­ca­sion­ally he'll dive for a triple 19 when the route is blocked and at one stage he was mil­lime­tres away from three bulls (a feat he's achieved only once) but an artist will find a way. And af­ter a few min­utes and over the noise of a con­ver­sa­tion he finds what he was look­ing for, a 180.

And he turns, of­fers a sat­is­fied smile, and goes to re­trieve his darts so he can start the search all over again.

He'll never stop, he knows that him­self and some­day soon when he’s not wiring dou­bles and when some­one like his present spon­sor, Rob­bie Kelly Com­mer­i­cal Clean­ing comes on board to back his su­per tal­ent, who’s to say that the darts com­men­ta­tors won't be yelling “ONE HUN­DRED AND EIGHTY for “Martin ' The Big Lad' Murphy” as the Carnew man takes his place on the game's big­gest stage.

Carnew’s Martin Murphy who is curently sec­ond in the Lad­brokes Ir­ish Darts Cham­pi­onship and is de­ter­mined to reach a level that will see him travel to tour­na­ments to take on the big­gest names in the sport. Be­low: Martin with the then world cham­pion Adrian Lewis who he beat.

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