Mark Barilli books his UK Open return in Greenock

Greenock’s own Mark Barilli booked his place at the 2019 UK Open after winning the Riley’s amateur qualifier in Greenock this Saturday.

Barilli, a former PDC Tour Card holder, will play in Minehead at the ‘FA Cup of Darts’ for the sixth time after defeating Dalbeattie’s Craig Smith 4-3 in an exciting final.

45-year-old Barilli raced into an early 2-0 lead, before Smith pegged him back with a series of impressive legs to move 3-2 up and within a leg of Minehead. However, Barilli fired in his second maximum of the match as he won the sixth leg before taking out double 4 under massive pressure to win 4-3 and put his name down for the first ranked major of the new PDC season.

After his victory over Smith, Barilli seemed utterly relieved.

“He’s sat there on 96 and I’m thinking, he’s taking this, he’s taking this. He didn’t, thankfully, and that was it really. I don’t really remember that last dart”.

Aside from the UK Open, Barilli said his aim for the rest of the year was focusing on the Challenge Tour and the various benefits doing well there can bring.

“I’m doing the Challenge Tour and I’m in the top 32 now, so that gets me onto the first few Euro qualifiers. I’m focusing on them now”.

This year’s UK Open has seen a considerable restructure take place, with the field extended to 160 players. However, there are fewer Riley’s places on offer and only one Scottish qualifier, in contrast to the two or three in past years.

That change, however, ensured that players from across Scotland in fact the north of England travelled to the event. Indeed, the tournament organisers actually said that of the 82 players signed up, only 10 were actually from the local Inverclyde area. A bus of 16 came up from Kirkcudbrightshire in the south of Scotland and they performed admirably, and also brought a great atmosphere to what was a highly entertaining event.

There were a number of standout performers on the day, including semi-finallists Andrew Broll and Lee Nisbett. Broll won his opening game 4-0 and then produced some terrific darts to dump Graham Ferguson out by the same scoreline and book his place in the quarter-finals. Broll would then fire in two 13-dart legs in an high-quality 4-3 win over Dale Ashby to move into the semi-finals where he was outgunned by Smith.

Stuart Lavender exited the competition at the quarter-final stage but he was responsible for two of the day’s more memorable moments. He survived six match darts to edge his opening game 4-3, a result he followed up with 4-1 win over Jim Russel Jr. He looked dead and buried in his last 32 tie at 3-1 down but again he found something to rally back and win 4-3, before beating Tom Oates in last 16. He would eventually be eliminated by Andrew Broll but he certainly left a lasting impression.

Tournaments like these offer you the chance to see unheralded talents first-handed and this was no exception. Two of the most impressive talents I saw all day were Sean Ryan and Callum McCleary. Ryan hit a maximum and 90 checkout on the bull in an opening 4-1 win over Ian Gunion but the Challenge Tour player really shone against Mark Barilli in the last 16 in what was probably the game of the day.

Barilli won the opening leg with a 14-darter, only for Ryan to respond with a 92 checkout. Ryan moved 2-1 ahead before Barilli won both the fourth leg, which he did in 13 darts, and the fifth to move 3-2 up. Sat on 64 in the next leg Barilli looked home and dry, but Ryan took out 100 with a tops-tops finish to force a last-leg decider. It wasn’t to be for Ryan as Barilli hit double 20 at the first time of asking to win 4-3 but in my honest opinion, I think Ryan would probably have won the whole thing if he’d won that game.

McCleary, who was wearing one of the white and blue Prostate Cancer UK shirts, had one of the nicest actions on the day and seemed absolutely delighted when I spoke to him to have reached the quarter-finals, the furthest he’s ever gotten in the Greenock qualifier. He is definitely one to watch at the upcoming BDO Scottish Open.

On the day the organisers were collecting for young cancer patient Jackson Waddell and they managed to raise £73 and you can donate online through the appropriate JustGiving page.

Talking of the organisers, I’d like to pay tribute to them. Chris and Mick worked tremendously hard all day to ensure the action kept moving and that the whole tournament was completed in a little over six hours. They were also exceptionally hospitable and deserve plaudits for their hard work.

As always, the Riley’s UK Open Qualifiers are one of the highlights on the darting calendar, a great opportunity to see darts as the grassroots level. On this occasion is the experienced former professional who shone, but there were a number of players who left their mark.

Who else will join Shaun Fox, Michael Burgoine, Lee Harris, Mark Barilli, Scott Taylor, Wes Newton, Kevin Thoburn, Lloyd Browning and Ian McFarlane in Minehead?

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