|Raymond van Barneveld
Raymond van Barneveld has opened up on his 'disaster' farewell year and his plans for redemption ahead of next week's European Qualifying School.
Over a year on from his infamous loss to Darin Young at Alexandra Palace, Van Barneveld is preparing to embark on a new journey starting from the very bottom of the PDC pyramid at Q School on Monday.
The five-time World Champion announced his intention to come out of retirement in October, and has spoken at length about what went wrong in what was supposed to be a fond farewell tour in 2019.
"This last year was a nightmare with coronavirus, but the year before was even worse for me. I wasn't myself anymore," admitted Van Barneveld.
"Problems with divorce. Problems with my head. Problems with my children. I couldn't play darts any more, the thing in my head was to give up.
"Jaco [ex-manager] told me it was the best thing to do and to be fair, I was never ever keen to do this.
"At the time when Jaco told me this at the Grand Prix in Ireland, I was really emotional. After that he just said 'Ray, say goodbye to the fans and make it a nice year'.
"But every time when I walked off that stage I felt ashamed. I can do more than this. I am better than this. I'm going to handle this.
"Even then on the World Championship night against Darin Young, I was averaging 96/97 and he got 87 or something and beat me 3-1.
"That moment was really the hardest moment in my life. I really felt the floor sinking below me. I was thinking wow after all I've done for myself, my family and all my fans. Is this the way I need to say goodbye? That felt horrible."
Van Barneveld admits the defeat to Darin Young at Ally Pally was the worst moment of his life
Following the painful defeat to Young, Van Barneveld infamously dismissed his career achievements in post-match interviews, visibly distraught at the sad end to his career.
Months later, the 53-year-old admits to watching back old clips with pride, using them as motivation to end his career in a better way.
Van Barneveld continued: "I was hating myself so much because of that last year. The last 10-12 months for me were good to acknowledge what happened.
"I started to look back in my career. Sometimes these were really emotional moments with tears in my eyes. Kissing my grandson in the walk-on in the Premier League in Rotterdam, giving him my necklace. I couldn't handle it.
"Wow, it meant something to me, to be there for all these fans throughout the world. Everywhere they came up, they all love Barney. I started to believe in that. Wow, do I miss this or what? The warm feeling from the crowd.
"They are singing and always backing me. I think: 'What did I turn to the dark side?' This is wrong. I became depressed, a nightmare for players, always down, always talking bad about myself. And I don't know where that came from.
"I was watching these videos thinking 'oh my God what happened'. Even when I played so bad they (the fans) were always there. Those moments I cherish. I have the feeling I want to do something back for them.
"I have the feeling that I still need to prove something back to the crowd because the way I walked off was a shame. They didn't deserve that.
"But the old devil comes in my head and I just say things in front of the camera which I shouldn't have done. I regret that. It happens.
"Now I feel good, I feel reborn, I have my focus back. I cannot wait to start playing darts again."
Van Barneveld will attend Q School for the first time in his career
However, it wasn't until a chance meeting with former coach Iwe Kuitert that comeback plans started to become serious for Van Barneveld.
"Iwe was always my coach during Lakeside and we won many tournaments together. Sometimes things come in your way, your path and it has to be like that," the Dutch legend explained.
"I was with Julia [Raymond's partner] in the Hague town shopping and I met him there in a clothing shop. We went for coffee and he said: 'You need to start Q School again because you are talented and a fantastic player.'
"From that point, I started thinking about it. Ben de Kok [former Manager] called me, and suggested I join the team with Jeffrey [de Zwaan]. It went so fast from October 1. I am really happy that these guys are backing me."
Van Barneveld's Q School journey will begin on Monday in European Stage 1A which he must come through to reach the final stage starting on Sunday February 14.
"I cannot wait. I am practising five times a day now, from 9am to 2/3pm. Every day we play darts, work out in the gym, or outside, we do fitness," Van Barneveld continued.
"We take it really seriously. I have never played Q School before. It is straight from the bottom and I don't know what to expect, how many talented players are there, what the level is, I can only look at my own level.
"I am playing really good darts at the moment, the most important thing is in my head I am back.
"I don't think about: 'What else? What if I don't get a Tour card?' I am going to get a Tour card. That is it.' I don't think about anything else. You need to believe in it, work hard for it. This is what we do right now.
"I know a couple of guys from my home town who got a Tour Card and they will play as well. They are really good local players, they are tough to beat. If I play my normal game or A game, I don't believe they can stop me."
Fallon Sherrock says the agony of missing out on the World Championship on leg-difference has made her more determined to win a PDC Tour Card at UK Qualifying School next week.
At the PDC Women's Series in October, Sherrock missed out by just two legs on a return to Alexandra Palace where she so famously defeated Ted Evetts and Mensur Suljovic in the 2019/20 event.
The 26-year-old will be among the hundreds of hopefuls at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, starting next Monday, with Sherrock focussed on becoming one of the Tour Card winners.
"It was upsetting at the time but I could either keep getting upset about it or move on from it and that's the way I'm looking at it," Sherrock told The Darts Show Podcast
"I'm using it to make myself more determined. I'm not going to lose by two legs in the future, I don't want to be in that scenario again.
"Lisa winning a Tour Card last year was a great achievement. We all want to get on the ProTour, I want to join Lisa and I know I've got the game.
"I wouldn't be going to Q School if I didn't think I was capable of doing it. I feel like I'm ready for it, I'm ready to be pushed by top quality players.
"I've been practicing a lot. I'm looking forward to Q School so much, I'm looking forward to getting out of the house and playing some proper darts.
"I'm very excited. It will be a very different environment to last year, I don't know what to expect from the whole experience."
Sherrock drew 6-6 with eventual Premier League winner Glen Durrant in Nottingham in March 2020
Having become a global sensation with her Ally Pally exploits, Sherrock was set for a global tour in 2020 following her inclusion in all the World Series events.
However, the 'Queen of the Palace' remains upbeat, adding: "Instead of dwelling on everything that could've been, I've got to look to the future and see what I can achieve going forward.
"I'm feeling very confident in the way I'm playing. At the Women's Series I really did play some quality darts but missed out by two legs. I think I'll always remember that.
"I know that if I keep performing when I'm in the spotlight then more opportunities will come in the future."
Robert Thornton is in no doubt he 'can still live with the best players in the world' after his World Cup of Darts experience as he looks ahead to UK Qualifying School.
Last November saw the two-time TV champion represent Scotland at the World Cup for the first time since 2016 alongside John Henderson, going down to eventual winners Wales in the last 16 despite Thornton claiming a win over newly-crowned Masters champion Jonny Clayton.
A difficult couple of years saw Thornton lose his Tour Card at the end of the 2020 season, but the four-time Premier League star is up for the fight to win back his place on the circuit immediately.
"I think I showed in the World Cup with John (Henderson) that I can still live with the best players in the world. It's up to me to show that at Q School," said Thornton.
"It's not the situation that I wanted to be in obviously. But that's the way sport goes. You have highs and lows, good times and bad times.
"I've been practising hard every day. I'll be ready.
"I know that Q School is going to be really hard. There are some big names in this year trying to get their Tour Card back like Raymond van Barneveld and Scott Mitchell amongst many.
"That doesn't bother me. I've beaten everyone at some stage or other and I know I can do it again.
"You need a bit of luck along the way, definitely. But all I can do is work hard, enjoy my game and produce what I'm doing in practice.
"At the PDPA World Championship qualifier I just missed out on the Ally Pally, losing to Jamie Lewis. I felt I was a bit unlucky and missed some chances. Yet he should have beaten eventual World Champion Gerwyn Price in the opening round, so it just goes to show!"
Thornton is targeting a return to Ally Pally
Thornton was also full of praise for Price in taking his maiden world crown even though he beat Scot Gary Anderson in the final.
He added: "To be fair, Gerwyn was the best player in the tournament, so it was the right result. He admitted himself he was lucky to beat Jamie in the opening match, but after that he was awesome.
"Gary also admitted that he wasn't at his best. He probably only made the final out of anger because Wayne Mardle had annoyed him!
"I watched a lot over Christmas obviously but I want to be back in the Worlds as soon as possible."
Kevin Painter has declared he has 'unfinished business' in the PDC ahead of his return to Q School next week.
Painter, 53, will attend UK Q School for a third consecutive year, desperate to win back his PDC Tour Card which he lost at the end of the 2018 campaign.
A former TV title winner and World Championship runner-up, Painter still believes he has more to give to the sport as he looks to recapture the form that saw him claim a place in the 2012 Premier League.
"I would call it 'unfinished business'. I believe I came off the tour before it was my time," Painter told The Darts Show Podcast.
"It wasn't a case of getting hammered 6-0 or 6-1 every week and thinking 'I can't do this anymore.'
"I was losing games by the odd leg and I threw away a lot of leads. That was down to poor concentration.
"To be honest, my attitude turning up to ProTours wasn't right, even though I was playing quite well in them.
"I had a couple of personal issues during my last year on tour which affected me.
"Things went against me and I ended up in the position I'm now in."
Painter's finest moment came at the 2011 Players Championship Finals
Since moving to the PDC from the BDO in 2001, Painter established himself as a regular face in the latter stages of TV events.
However, since his last TV quarter-final at the 2014 World Grand Prix, Painter's form steadily declined, ultimately resulting in the loss of his Tour Card.
"Whether I can be that player again, time will tell," Painter continued.
"My practice has been going alright, I'm throwing really well now.
"I believe I'm plenty good enough to be on the tour still, but it's up to me to show that.
"There's a case to say that it's harder to get back on the tour than it is to stay on it.,
"You hear a lot about the youngsters but the older players can still throw darts, Mervyn King and Steve Beaton are top examples.
"You don't lose your ability, you just lose your way sometimes when you get older and I need to find my way again."