He hears his target every time he enters the big stages of the darts world. "I won't back down. There ain't no easy way out," sings Tom Petty, while William O'Connor makes his way through the line of spectators to his match: I won't give in. There is no easy way out.
How fitting. Because the trend was clear. His run-in song had recently not been heard at all. The big tournaments took place without him. William O'Connor had brought in just 10,750 pounds since reaching the semi-finals at the UK Open in the past six months. He had not been able to qualify for any of the nine events on the European Tour. Not even in the Players Championship events had he advanced past the third round. The Irishman threatened to miss the Darts World Cup at the end of the year for the first time since 2016.
Participation in the World Cup is doubly important for the players. It's the big payday with an appearance fee of £7,500 and a doubling of the award for just one win. Above all, it also defines the sporting possibilities of each player for the next two years: the Order of Merit, unofficial world ranking list, is calculated from the prize money earned over the past 24 months.
So O'Connor didn't have many chances to turn the tide and to get one of the 64 starting places awarded by the two ranking lists. The adjusted Order of Merit, which will resolve 32 World Cup tickets, put him 36th, £19,250 away from qualifying. And in the Pro Tour, too, 45 players were ahead of him at the start of the tournament on Friday. The gap to rank 32 was 4000 pounds.
The 36-year-old offered the most promising and perhaps last realistic chance to make up ground, the Hungarian Darts Trophy, an event of the European Tour, for which he exceptionally qualified again.
In Budapest, in the tenth and fourth to last tournament of the tournament series, he first beat Hungary's Pal Szekely (6-2) on Friday, then won against world-class players Dimitri van den Bergh from Belgium (6-3) and Englishman Michael Smith (6-6) on Saturday :5) and also beat Jose de Sousa 6:4 in the quarterfinals. O'Connor was already 4-2 down against the Portuguese and then put in an impressive finish with four legs in a row.
"Not even the biggest analysts would have trusted him to go this way," correctly classified TV expert Robert Marijanovic at DAZN O'Connor's tournament weekend.
"All you people out there, you all really have no idea what it means for me to be here on this stage on Sunday night. This win against Jose gives me a great chance to still qualify for the World Championship and continue living my dream of being a professional darts player. Thank you everyone here tonight for the support," said the blissful O'Connor, concluding with his very own rendition of the Petty classic: "Irish blood. We never give up.”
The same was true for the semifinals. The Limerick man continued his run and defeated Nathan Aspinall 7-5 after five missed match darts). "If someone had told me that before the weekend, I would have freaked out. But the audience here in Budapest was the best I've ever experienced," said O'Connor.
It was only in the final that he lost 8-2 to Joe Cullen. More important than the possible second tournament win of his career was the jump that O'Connor made thanks to the £10,000 prize money in the Pro Tour rankings. There he is now in 16th place in the "Race to Alexandra Palace" and thus back in the World Cup qualifying ranks.
A lead of £6,000 which he will now have to defend in the coming weeks. But the Irish, as we've known since this Sunday at the latest, never give up...
Damon Heta (AUS) – Josh Rock (NIR) 4:6
Danny Noppert (NED) – Rusty-Jake Rodriguez (AUT) 1:6
Ryan Searle (ENG) - Karel Sedlacek (CZE) 3: 6
Dirk van Duijvenbode (NED) – Chris Dobey (ENG) 6:3
Michael Smith (ENG) – Daryl Gurney (NIR) 6:0
Krzysztof Ratajski (POL) - Ryan Meikle (ENG) 4: 6
Dimitri van den Bergh (BEL) – William O‘Connor (IRL) 3:6
Jonny Clayton (WAL) – Dave Chisnall (ENG) 5:6
Rob Cross (ENG) – Jeffrey de Zwaan (NED) 4:6
Jose de Sousa (POR) – Raymond van Barneveld (NED) 6:5
Luke Humphries (ENG) – Boris Krcmar (CRO) 3:6
Joe Cullen (ENG) – Martin Lukeman (ENG) 6:4
Peter Wright (SCO) – Jim Williams (WAL) 5:6
Michael van Gerwen (NED) – Simon Whitlock (AUS) 5:6
Nathan Aspinall (ENG) – Stephen Bunting (ENG) 6:3
Without a fight in the round of 16: Madars Razma (LAT)
Round of 16:
Jim Williams (WAL) – Joe Cullen (ENG) 4:6
Madars Razma - Rusty-Jake Rodriguez (AUT) 4-6
Josh Rock (NIR) – Dirk van Duijvenbode (NED) 6:5
Boris Krcmar (CRO) – Dave Chisnall (ENG) 3:6
Jeffrey de Zwaan (NED) – Jose de Sousa (POR) 4:6
Michael Smith (ENG) – William O‘Connor (IRL) 5:6
Karel Sedlacek (CZE) - Nathan Aspinall (ENG) 4: 6
Simon Whitlock (AUS) – Ryan Meikle 5-6
Joe Cullen (ENG) – Rusty-Jake Rodriguez (AUT) 6:4
Josh Rock (NIR) – Dave Chisnall (ENG) 0:6
Jose de Sousa (POR)– William O'Connor (IRL) 4:6
Nathan Aspinall (ENG) – Ryan Meikle 6:5
Joe Cullen (ENG) – Dave Chisnall (ENG) 7:6
William O‘Connor (IRL) – Nathan Aspinall (ENG) 7:5
Joe Cullen (ENG) – William O‘Connor (IRL) 8:2