Kirk Shepherd left Alexandra Palace last night with his bank balance overflowing but his hopes of glory in tatters. The 21-year-old sheet-metal worker from Ramsgate was aiming to become the most unlikely winner of the PDC World Championship, but in John Part he came up against a veteran who was never going to let himself be unnerved by either the occasion or the unbridled confidence of his youthful opponent.
Part, 41, won the final 7-2 to claim his third world title and the top prize of 100,000. Shepherd's consolation was a runner-up's cheque for 50,000, which is 48,030 more than he had won in his entire career before he set out on a run which saw him claim the scalps of, among others, Wayne Mardle, Peter Manley and Terry Jenkins.
Shepherd, who was suffering with influenza, never found his best form, but a great future surely beckons. The world No 22 he had begun the tournament as No 140 said afterwards that he would be giving up his 8,000-a-year job to become a full-time professional.
While Part threw fluently throughout, Shepherd regularly snatched at his darts. The Canadian was never at his best, but with a three-dart average of 92.86, compared with Shepherd's 85.10, he did not need to be. Shepherd had the better success rate on doubles 35 per cent to Part's 34 per cent but it was the three-times champion who generally hit the target when it really mattered.
"You can't expect to win playing like that," Shepherd said. "It was more like pub darts. You can't throw like that in the final of a world championship and expect to win.
"I think I was over-confident. I didn't feel one bit of nerves in the whole match. You need the odd bit of adrenalin. I was trying to gee myself up, but I was too relaxed. It might sound weird, but I was so relaxed that I almost wanted to shut my eyes when I was throwing. I've never felt like that before. It was crazy."
The two finalists could hardly have been a greater contrast. Part, one of the game's most respected figures, won his first title in 1991 and three years later became the first player from outside Britain to win the British Darts Organisation's world championship when he beat Bobby George. Part won the Professional Darts Corporation's world crown in 2003, beating Phil Taylor in the final, and is one of only four players who have won both versions of the title.
Shepherd, in contrast, was appearing in his first world championship. Having turned professional two years ago, he had given little indication of his potential before arriving at Alexandra Palace, whereupon he beat a succession of top players to give himself the chance of becoming the first qualifier to win the world title since Keith Deller in 1983.
Rookie he may be, but Shepherd has quickly established himself as a showman. He knows how to whip up the crowd not that a darts audience needs much encouragement to find its voice and when he celebrates a winning dart he knows exactly where the television cameras are.
His entry into the West Hall was a masterpiece of crowd management. Having said before the match that he hoped to win the audience's backing against an overseas opponent, Shepherd climbed on to the stage and unfurled a Cross of St George flag. Within seconds a chant of "Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land" was echoing around the arena and the subsequent greeting for Part was, at best, perfunctory.
The Canadian, however, is one of the coolest of customers. Shepherd scored only 42 on his first visit and Part replied with 100 before taking the opening leg with his first attempt at a double and winning the first and second sets 3-2. A master of the tight finish, Part won four out of six deciding legs here, taking his success rate in the tournament to 15 out of 19.
By the third set Shepherd's three-dart average was down to a miserable 77, while Part's was over 90. Sets three and four were whitewashes, Part going 4-0 up with a bull finish to complete an 86 check-out.
Having lost seven legs in succession, Shepherd stopped the rot with a 101 check-out to take the initiative at the start of the fifth set. Fired by his first 180, Shepherd went on to take the deciding leg and leapt in the air in celebration.
Shepherd brought the house down by winning another set with a 160 check-out to trail 5-2, but Part was not to be denied. He won the eighth set 3-1 and the ninth 3-2, even if he needed five darts to hit the match-winning double.
Part agreed that his good start had been crucial. "I've played so many matches that you know winning the first few sets helps," he said. "It was probably a bit more important here because the crowd were so fervently behind him."Reuse content