It’s safe to say it’s been a busy month in the life of Michael Smith. On New Year’s Day he appeared in his first World Championship final and just four days later, he was celebrating his wedding day with his wife Dagmara. However, it’s now back to business for ‘Bully Boy’, who is determined to make 2019 his best year yet.
Smith’s ability has never been in question. He exploded on to the darting scene in 2013, when he defeated Ricky Evans to lift the World Youth Championship title, before further underling his prodigious potential with a stunning 4-3 win over Phil Taylor in the 2014 World Championship.
The St Helen’s star also picked up a raft of European Tour and Players Championship titles between 2014 and 2017, but it was twelve months ago when he really established himself as one of the world’s very best.
Smith received a wildcard invitation for the 2018 Premier League, having been eliminated on his debut in 2016. He was priced as an 80/1 outsider and third favourite to finish bottom, but the 28-year-old make a mockery of those odds.
‘Bully Boy’ registered the solitary victory in his debut campaign, but he made a flying start twelve months ago, winning his opening four games to storm into play-off contention.
Smith maintained his form throughout the campaign to finish the league phase in second spot, and he defeated his mentor Gary Anderson in the semi-finals to reach his maiden televised final, before succumbing to an imperious Michael van Gerwen in the final.
However, as he prepares to begin his 2019 season at this weekend’s BetVictor Masters, Smith told Josh’s Dartistry that he’s enjoyed a welcome break away from the oche.
“I’ve not practiced at all, I’ve just put my darts away and forgot about them. It’s the only time I’ve had to myself without looking at a treble or double; it’s been great,” Smith said.
“I’ve not had any time to reflect on what I’ve done last year and the Worlds. I’ve not been able to sit down and look at the trophy because it still makes me depressed.”
Following on from his impressive Premier League campaign, Smith reached two further televised finals at the World Series Finals and of course the World Championship, where he was denied by James Wade and Van Gerwen respectively.
The world number six did defeat ‘The Green Machine’ en route to winning the Shanghai Darts Masters in July, but that’s given Smith the taste for major success, which he remains adamant is just around the corner.
We’re close like we are family. Gary didn’t really help me with the darts side- he just lets me get on with it like a big brother would do, or my dad.
“I’m glad I played well especially after my performances in my previous Premier League. I always believed I’ll win on TV and I know I won in Shanghai which gave me a mini boost but my time will come and I’m 100% sure of that.”
One of the biggest factors behind Smith’s ascension into the world’s top six has been his growing maturity. The St Helen’s thrower often references a Grand Slam encounter against Phil Taylor in November 2014 as a steep learning curve.
Smith was beaten 16-3 by ‘The Power’ and lost his composure in the latter stages of the contest, but that player is almost unrecognisable nowadays, as Smith has transformed into one of the most level-headed and respectful characters in the game.
However, Smith credits his young family for providing him with the grounding and motivation to succeed. “I have two kids, a wife now and a zoo at home and they’re expensive to keep so I can’t afford to be a baby while playing,” he quips.
Smith is now an established fixture on the Premier League and World Series circuits and although the rewards are lucrative, the consequences mean he’s forced to spend large amounts of time away from home, but his son Michael, or Junior as dad refers to him, continues to drive him on.
“At this moment I’m happy because I’ve had four weeks with them and now its work time and I’m always ready to go and play but in a month or two I’ll want to be at home. But Junior is mad on the darts so that gives me confidence in that I have to win or he won’t let me come home!”
Nevertheless, although Smith will be spending plenty of time travelling the globe in 2019, he’ll be regularly competing alongside and against a man he considers as ‘family’, in the shape of Gary Anderson.
‘The Flying Scotsman’ has been a mentor for Smith since he joined the PDC circuit in 2012 and the pair are stablemates and both managed by Tommy Gilmour. Although Smith insists Anderson’s contribution towards his career largely centre away from the board, it’s clear that the two-time world champion is a source of inspiration for ‘Bully Boy’.
“We’re close like we are family. Gary didn’t really help me with the darts side- he just lets me get on with it like a big brother would do, or my dad,” Smith said.
“He will only tell me after I’ve made a mistake. I think that’s why we get on so well, and we can’t stand losing to each other so we want to win as many matches to get to play each other so then the winner has the bragging rights until the next game.”
Smith’s burning desire to win is evident throughout the interview. The vast majority of players would be ecstatic with reaching a World Championship final, but the former World Youth champion isn’t satisfied with second best, which is the attitude that breeds champions.
The former World Youth champion kicks off his Masters campaign against his close friend Ian White on Saturday night, and he’s heavily fancied to progress through the bottom half of the draw featuring the likes of Rob Cross, Peter Wright, Gerwyn Price and Adrian Lewis.
Smith then begins his 2019 Premier League season against Van Gerwen in a repeat of last year’s showpiece and the recent World Championship final at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena.
Smith’s potential is limitless, but he’s refusing to get carried away and is simply determined to improve upon last year’s performances, which would be no mean feat. “I’m just looking forward to getting back on the grind and getting as many wins as I can.
“Everyone has targets and every year mine is to do better than last year. If I don’t make sure you don’t give up and fight for what you deserve and want.”
Photo Credits: Lawrence Lustig/PDC