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GERWYN AIMS FOR WORLD NUMBER ONE SPOT.

Byline: IAN MITCHELMORE Reporter ian.mitchelmore@walesonline.co.uk

FROM being the hunter to becoming the hunted, Gerwyn Price has a target on his back.

Since quitting professional rugby five years ago to pursue a darting dream the brazen 35-year-old has courted controversy, been booed, criticised and ruffled plenty of feathers. He has also become a scalp for many of the world's best players.

After defeating Gary Anderson in ill-tempered fashion to secure his first PDC major in 2018, the former rugby player cheekily quipped that he was pinching money from the pockets of darts professionals.

Having continued to significantly increase his bank balance in the last year or so, Price is now solely judged for his ability on the oche, and rightly so too.

Ranked as the third best player on the planet, Price has two major PDC title victories to his name and has earned a staggering PS762,750 in prize money over the past two years.

And any victory over the Welshman is celebrated as vigorously as Price himself did in that glorious triumph over Anderson in 2018.

But behind the puffed out chest, clinched fists and bulging biceps is a quiet character fighting inner battles with a laser-like focus on becoming world number one. And toppling Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright - the only players above him in the rankings - is now firmly in his sights.

"I don't want to try and look too far ahead but I know that Michael and Peter are defending a lot of money this year," he said.

"If I can go and pick up another major this year and have a couple of good runs, if I can win the worlds at the end of the year there's the possibility of the world number one spot, but like I said, I can't look too far ahead.

"I just want to have a good Premier League campaign and have a good couple of TV runs towards the end of the year."

Price's career has seemingly been on an upward trajectory for some time, which is remarkable when you consider that he only turned professional in 2014.

It even emerged that he had an unlikely fan in the shape of Hollywood A-list actor Matthew McConaughey last year.

But it hasn't all been plain sailing for the ex-Neath, Cross Keys and Glasgow Warriors hooker.

Following his 2018 triumph over Anderson in the final of the Grand Slam, Price was hit with a hefty fine of PS21,500 by the Darts Regulation Authority (DRA) as a result of his conduct on the oche.

And while that sum was slashed significantly after a successful appeal by Price, the events of that night in Wolverhampton have had a lasting impact.

Price has been the recipient of loud boos and jeering on a seemingly weekly basis. And while he has generally managed to silence his critics, the Welshman admits it did prove too much for him on one occasion when he was beaten by Dave Chisnall at the Grand Prix in Ireland last October.

"All of the grief I had from the crowd, especially out in Dublin where I probably cracked a little bit, it was a bit emotional," explained Price, who averaged under 80 in that defeat to Chisnall.

"I lost in the first round to Dave Chisnall. The crowd out there were worse than I've ever had. They were just relentless.

"I posted my feelings on social media and I started playing well after that. The crowd started to turn as well, and when they weren't on my back towards the end of the year, it showed that I can play a lot better without the grief and the crowds on my back.

"People are entitled to their opinions and can do what they want to do, but just a little bit of respect goes a long way.

"It all stemmed from the Grand Slam in 2018. Gary has a big fan base and obviously I'd been playing for a couple of years and I was known, but nothing compared to the likes of Gary or Michael.

"People jumped on my back and probably thought I was just a flash in the pan. I think they realise now that I'm here to stay and I'm not going anywhere. Whether they boo me or not, I'm still going to try and play the best I can so it's better off they just leave me alone.

"But considering all of that, it's the best year I've ever had moneywise and in terms of rankings.

"I'm not saying I want the fans to be like that all of the time, but they've just moulded me into a stronger-minded player."

With his ever-improving position in the world rankings comes the added pressure of delivering the goods on grander stages.

And when you add practice to his vast amounts of travelling and active playing time, there's suddenly precious little room for Price to enjoy the finer things in life, let alone to actually make the most of his eye-watering prize winnings.

But sharing his second Grand Slam victory - one that saw him become only the seventh player in history to successfully defend a PDC televised title - on stage with his two daughters in November made the sacrifices worthwhile.

"Since I started playing in the Premier League, I haven't really got a social life," he explained.

"My mate John comes travelling with me and if I play in the Premier League on a Thursday night, maybe we'll have a couple of beers after that, but very rarely do I go out with my mates from home because I just don't have the time.

"That's why my first year in the Premier League was a culture shock. The last two years that's all I've known. But without darts I haven't got anything to do really.

"My wife would like to come a lot more than she does, but obviously having the two girls, it's difficult.

"Back then they didn't really understand what was going on. But it was nice to win it again last year and get a different reception. The crowd were a lot better and to have the girls on the stage was extra special."

Price is yet to be beaten in this year's Premier League, and he showed serious bottle to come from behind in each of his first three matches to claim draws against Rob Cross, Michael Smith and then Daryl Gurney in Cardiff.

His latest fixture saw him thump reigning world champion Peter Wright 7-1, a result that means the Welshman is the only player undefeated in the prestigious event after four games.

It came just days after he defeated world number one Michael van Gerwen to win the Players Championship 6 final, his 10th PDC title.

It's some turnaround for the former rugby player who was among the many spectators watching the Premier League at the Motorpoint Arena as recently as 2017 before being invited to play in the competition 12 months later.

"You go to other venues and you can have six or seven thousand plus in the crowd," he said.

"Cardiff is one of the smallest Premier League venues, but it's a good atmosphere and everything is so close. Obviously me being Welsh is even better.

"I think Cardiff is one of the better venues, a bit like the Matchplay where you've got a smaller crowd but more of an atmosphere."

There were certainly no boos for Price or his compatriot Jonny Clayton when the pair took to the stage in Cardiff last month.

And it seems Price's own astonishing achievements and talents have shone through as the boo boys on the darting circuit have found themselves silenced.

Price will continue to rack up tournament wins. The cash will keep pouring in. And it's purely because of the fact that the Welsh number one has worked tirelessly to become one of the best in his profession.

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Gerwyn Price in action ALEX DAVIDSON
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Author:IAN MITCHELMORE Reporter ian.mitchelmore@walesonline.co.uk
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 1, 2020
Words:1330
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