Van Barneveld: ‘The demons won again’

Raymond van Barneveld launched a scathing attack on his own performance after losing 3-1 to Darin Young at the World Championship, insisting ‘I will never forgive myself’ after his career came to a premature conclusion on an emotional night at Alexandra Palace.

The doyen of Dutch darts was determined to sign off in style in the capital and received a rousing reception from the adoring ‘Barney Army’, but he was left to rue missed opportunities as he succumbed to the experienced American – making his tenth PDC World Championship.

Van Barneveld didn’t perform poorly. His 96 average was the highest of the evening session – matching Michael van Gerwen’s performance yesterday. Nevertheless, Barney ultimately was unable to produce the goods when it mattered most.

The five-time world champion has enjoyed a glittering career spanning 35 years due to his remarkable ability to produce moments of sheer brilliance under the most intense scrutiny. If players gave him an inch – he’d take a mile. That typifies the champion’s mentality he possessed in abundance.

That’s the type of mentality that saw him beat Phil Taylor in the 2007 final at the Circus Tavern – unanimously considered the greatest game of darts ever seen. He also produced similar heroics in 2016 to dethrone overwhelming favourite Van Gerwen in an Ally Pally epic.

However, Van Barneveld spurned a number of opportunities against ‘Big Daddy’ – missing darts to win the final two sets as the curtain came down on his career in subdued fashion, prompting the 52-year-old to declare that ‘the demons won again’.

The Den Haag ace was seemingly in a state of shock in his post-match interview with Sky Sports’ Rod Studd, lamenting his ‘disaster’ year before claiming: ‘I will never forgive myself ever’ for losing in the first round of his final event as a professional.

The Dutchman then conducted interviews in a candid post-match press conference where the self-critical theme continued. “I will hate myself every single day. I never, ever felt comfortable this whole match.

“I felt really good the last couple of weeks, played really good matches, but the demons won again. What did I achieve? Nothing,” claimed the desolate Dutchman.

When Van Barneveld reflects on his career away from the media glare, he will surely look back with immense pride at his remarkable accomplishments. He’s been the ultimate trailblazer for darts in the Netherlands, taking the sport to unthinkable heights.

He’s inspired a generation of talent that continue to emerge on the PDC stage to date – he was due to face his protege Jeffrey de Zwaan in the second round, but Young tore up the darting script to deprive the Dutch darting public of a potential passing of the torch.

Despite this, when challenged by surrounding journalists in the press-room who argued he had enjoyed a record-breaking career, Van Barneveld remained downbeat. “That’s in the past. I can’t live with myself from this point, never ever,” he continued.

“Losing the last two years in the first round, then you’re an amateur. You don’t belong in this game. I don’t belong at this high level any more. That’s how I feel. That’s what I tell myself for the rest of my life.”

“For the last couple of months it was OK,” he reflected. “I played well in the World Series, played really good in the Players Championship Finals. I felt comfortable, I played really good last weekend against Simon Whitlock. I was really focusing, and really thought I was going to do this.”

Van Barneveld was asked whether he could have done anything differently in terms of preparation. He acknowledged that he lacked that match sharpness, admitting that ‘playing the board’ didn’t provide him with the requisite psychological strength for such a demanding tournament.

“I don’t know what I could have done more. I had a practice with Jeffrey de Zwaan. We couldn’t do this, because Jeffrey was obviously a second-round match. I tried to practice with Jermaine Wattimena but he couldn’t do it, because he was playing in the afternoon.

“Then we went to Max Hopp, but Max Hopp couldn’t do it because he was ill. So a lot of the time, we try to play the board. But boards don’t hit back. If you play the board, you don’t feel the pain. You have to play real opponents and we never did it.”

That last quote from RvB was perhaps the most telling. Like all sports, the mental aspect of darts is absolutely critical and the self-belief has evidently drained from Van Barneveld’s as he approached the end of the road.

He still certainly possesses the ability. His languid, effortless throw remains one of the best in the game, but the self-doubt that has been a feature of his career in the latter stages has become more prominent over recent months.

He posted 16 scores of 140+, he landed five maximums and scores of 170 and 177 – averaging over 100 in two of the four sets. However, when he was afforded opportunities he frittered them away and as Young produced some clutch combination finishing – his belief gradually ebbed away also.

It was a sobering night for Barney and his legion of adoring fans, but it shouldn’t overshadow what has been a quite remarkable career spanning three decades. There aren’t enough superlatives to adequately describe his impact on the sport, but his legacy will remain unrivalled.

Raymond van Barneveld was the people’s champion – he was a five-time world champion, a darting genius. However, last night marked the end of an era. An emotional occasion which saw one of the greats bow out. He may be gone, but Barney will never be forgotten.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

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