Two-time PDC World Grand Prix finalist Terry Jenkins said that darts is more of a mental game than a physical one. A cool head is necessary to thrive in the game and it’s an adjective that would aptly describe Steve Lennon. The Carlow native looks to become the first Irishman to win a World Grand Prix match on his home stage since Connie Finnan dispatched Jenkins five years ago. At 24 years of age, he will make his Dublin main-stage debut after a year that suggests Irish darts could finally have its first major talent.
Thousands will attend the annual week-long event in the CityWest where Lennon has the toughest task of all, a first-round tie with tournament favourite and world number one Michael van Gerwen. Lennon, in a typically understated Irish way, doesn’t seem too fazed by the task at hand:
“I would have been nervous at first yeah but then when the draw came out, [I thought] van Gerwen is world number one for a reason so the pressure is more on him than it is on me. That’s the way I am trying to look at it. It’s just how you play on the day. If I can play my A game, then anything is possible.”
Lennon lost to the three-time champion in the final of the Dutch Darts Masters on the European Tour as he became the first Irishman to ever reach a Euro Tour final but may benefit from the short ‘double-in’ format of the opening round. This means that players can only begin their leg with a successful double attempt and still must also finish it with a double, a unique structure which has proven a challenge for some of darts’ best down the years. Michael van Gerwen did crash out to the overwhelming underdog John Henderson at the same stage in 2017 and Lennon is aware of the potential advantage.
“[To beat him] a shorter format is probably better, obviously double-start is a bit of a leveller for anyone because it’s so unique; there’s only one tournament in the year with that format. I’d practice a lot on my doubles anyway and I try not to think too much about the double-start. I just let it flow and try and do my best.”
The stats in 2018 have made excellent reading for Lennon, who over the eighteen non-televised Players Championship events has a higher three-dart average than former two-time Grand Prix champion James Wade and Premier League star Simon Whitlock. Lennon also has hit the fifth most 140s which is a testament to his scoring ability. The former Waterford IT student came to prominence at the 2018 World Darts Championship where he pushed Premier League runner-up Michael Smith in a final set decider.
“In that game I think nerves got to me a lot; when I was two sets down I thought to myself ‘I’ll try and make the score more respectable’ and then when I realised I had a chance to get back into it, I started playing better but it obviously wasn’t meant to be.
“I don’t feel as nervous anymore but I haven’t produced my A game on stage. I’m hoping I just get more experience on it and hopefully I can start winning more games on stage.”
Like many players, Lennon began playing in pubs from 14 and was introduced to the county darts scene in Carlow. It wasn’t until 2015 after qualifying for the World Youth Championship where things began to take off for the man who, unlike his fellow sportsmen, is still yet to get an official nickname. Lennon would go on to win the Irish Players Championship in 2016 before qualifying through the “ridiculously hard” PDC Q school in 2017.
There hasn’t been much Irish success in the World Grand Prix since its inception 20 years ago, with Lennon’s World Cup partner William O’Connor failing to get past the first round on four different occasions. But things are looking positive for the future.
“The Ireland National Darts Organisation do all of the Irish ranking tournaments and the standard has started increasing, they’re starting to get a few more entries for it. There’s a good few who went to Q school this year and I think there’ll be a few more going next year. Hopefully, we’ll see one or two more getting tour cards anyway.”
Former top professionals such as Chris Mason have tipped Lennon to rise to the elite top 16 in the future, but Lennon isn’t looking too far ahead. “I’m going to take the future as it comes – obviously I have small little targets. Each time I set targets I’m reaching them so hopefully it just keeps continuing.
“All your main focus is trying to qualify for all the TV majors but then when you qualify for all the TV majors you still want to make an impact on them. That’s the hope from now.”