It is often said that a week is a long time in politics, but the same principle applies to the world of darts – just ask Joe Cullen.
When ‘The Rockstar’ arrived in Milton Keynes ahead of the season-opening Masters on Friday, he wasn’t featuring prominently in the Premier League conversation.
Just over 48 hours later, Cullen was celebrating his first major title, following a thrilling 11-9 victory over Dave Chisnall at the Marshall Arena.
The 32-year-old was subsequently announced as one of the eight players headlining this year’s revamped Premier League, and he is relishing the prospect of fulfilling another darting dream over the coming weeks.
“Obviously it was a bit of a whirlwind 24 hours, going from the elation of winning [the Masters] to more good news getting in the Premier League. I’ve had worse Sundays, definitely!” he told Josh’s Dartistry.
“It is cliché, but I just cannot wait to get going. I have dreamed of this for a long time.”
Cullen has made considerable strides over recent years, and he underlined that progress with his exploits at the Masters, defeating four major winners en route to glory, where he inflicted Chisnall’s sixth defeat in a PDC major final.
The world No 11 produced the performance of the weekend to dispatch Gary Anderson 10-1 with a sublime 106.3 average, before dumping out five-time winner Michael van Gerwen in the last eight.
Cullen also averaged 99 and 101 in accounting for Daryl Gurney and Jose De Sousa respectively, before overcoming ten missed match darts to prevail against Chisnall and scoop the £60,000 top prize.
“The game against Gary was the highlight, but for me personally, I preferred the game against Michael, because the performance really wasn’t there. It was more of a scrap,” Cullen continued.
“It looks great when you’re banging in the 100+ averages and demolishing people, but the games where you have to scrap and fight are definitely more pleasing for me personally.
“If you had asked me before the final and told me what was going to happen, I would have thought I would maybe panic a little bit, but I knew I was playing better than Dave was and I knew I’d give myself more chances.
“It was just about staying calm. I’m not a big fan of tops or tens so I knew when I left a double I preferred like 18s or 16s I’d hit it, and low and behold the first dart went straight in.”
It was an emotional occasion in Milton Keynes, and Cullen was unable to hold back the tears following a tumultuous period in his personal life.
The Bradford-born star dedicated his maiden televised triumph to his late mother, Pam, who sadly passed away just months ago, and he was joined on stage by his father, Frank, in heart-warming scenes.
Inevitably, it was case of mixed emotions for ‘The Rockstar’ on a poignant evening, but it provided further indication of his mental fortitude, illustrated by his run to the European Championship semi-finals in October, just days after his mother’s passing.
“With everything that has gone on, it was nice to have my Dad by my side, just in general, not necessarily to do with the darts.
“To have him there, to lift my first major and obviously get the news regarding the Premier League, it made it that little bit more special.”
The 32-year-old had not featured in a major final prior to last weekend, but his breakthrough is not sudden, nor surprising.
He scooped his first PDC ranking title in 2017 and has since added another six Pro Tour crowns to his growing haul, to close in on a place in the world’s top ten.
For large periods of the 2021 campaign, Cullen was also No 1 seed on the PDC Pro Tour – an achievement reaffirming the consistency he operates with.
However, he is now translating his blistering Pro Tour performances to the big stage, and with a bumper £1 million prize fund on offer in this year’s Premier League, Cullen concedes this opportunity could be ‘life-changing’.
“If you look at it from the financial side – the money from the weekend, plus the Premier League, all the exposure – it is definitely career-changing and in the long-run I think it will be life-changing as well,” he added.
“It is a long time away from home and it is a hard slog, but this is what we all play for. This is the pinnacle.”
The newly crowned Masters champion is part of a new eight player line-up, in the most radical change to the Premier League format since the tournament’s inception in 2005.
Cullen opened proceedings against defending champion and home favourite Jonny Clayton at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena last week, succumbing 6-2 in a high-scoring affair.
Clayton lifted the Premier League title on debut 12 months ago, fresh from claiming Masters glory, and the Yorkshireman will be hoping to emulate the Ferret’s heroics.
“I think it [Premier League] needed a bit of a freshening up, so I think everyone is intrigued as to how it’s going to pan out.
“It’s a different proposition for the boys that are more experienced than myself. It is potentially more than one game per night, which is what they have been used to in previous years. It will be new for everyone.”
‘The Rockstar’ is determined to savour the unique Premier League atmosphere, and the prospect of him being serenaded to ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ throughout this year’s roadshow is enough to whet the appetite.
He received a spine-tingling reception at Alexandra Palace last month, although he admits he is relieved to be walking on first during this year’s Premier League.
“I think when I changed to this song, the initial reaction I got from it – everybody knows the song and loves the song, similar to Daryl Gurney and Sweet Caroline,” Cullen reflected.
“I’m hoping the night in Manchester will be the most special of the lot, with Oasis obviously being from there.
“I think one of the better things is I am the lowest ranked at No 11, so I will always be walking on first. It put me off a little bit at the Worlds.
“It [the singing] went into the practice darts that you have, and then into the start of the game as well, so at least it will be over and done with by the time the second player walks on!”
Images: Taka Wu/PDC