Given his meteoric rise to the summit of world darts, you would forgive Gerwyn Price for allowing himself a moment to take stock and enjoy his newfound success. But the reigning PDC world darts champion is in no mood to put his feet up. He is instead intent on dominating the sport he only turned to seven years ago before enjoying an early retirement.
“I don’t think you’ll see me flogging myself on the tour once I get past 50 like some other players do,” he tells me. “So that gives me 14 years to do as much as I can in this game. But I have that hunger and desire to dominate the game like guys like Phil [Taylor] did. This is the start, not the end.”
Comparisons with the 16-times world champion Taylor are lofty to say the least, but Price has so far backed up all of his swagger and talk on the board, epitomised by his first world title last winter at Alexandra Palace. The defence of that crown begins on Wednesday with a tie against either Ritchie Edhouse or Lihao Wen, with Price again among the favourites to win the £500,000 top prize.
It was only in 2014 that Price won his tour card, enabling him to turn professional and abandon his career in rugby, after his friend and ex-professional Barrie Bates convinced him to chance his arm at Qualifying School. Price caught the attention of Bates after playing in local competitions in his hometown of Markham. In just seven years, Price has secured millions in prize money and is the current world No 1.
“Barrie was on at me for two or three years to have a go at it, but I kept turning it down,” Price says. “Had I known then that you had to pay to enter the events after winning a tour card, I wouldn’t have even gone and we wouldn’t be sat here. I remember him telling me in Wigan after I won the card that I had to pay to get in to some tournaments, I thought he was joking. But I’d missed the boat in rugby, I was stuck in a rut and I needed a change. I was lucky to have darts as an option.”
It is some story and some rise, but even success on this scale has its challenges. The 36-year-old is the pantomime villain of darts, his enthusiastic celebrations, which sometimes border on overstepping the mark, making him an obvious target for hostility from supporters. Fans return to the world championship this year after last year’s event was played behind closed doors.
“If it looks like water off a duck’s back, I’m hiding it well,” Price says with a smile. “It’s difficult, sometimes really difficult, especially with your family watching. But I can’t worry about that. I do actually like the crowds, and playing to them. Winning it last year without them was strange though, and it gives me that extra hunger to do it again this year and win it with them shouting, jeering – whatever they’re doing.”
By his own admission, the aftermath of January’s victory against Gary Anderson left him lacking in motivation about what to do next, given he had risen to the top of the sport in the blink of an eye. But now, refocused and re-energised, and with his form improving in the second half of this year, the Welshman is ready to try to lay down a marker for a period of dominance with a second consecutive world title.
“I’ve won it once, and that might be enough for some people, but it isn’t for me,” he says. “I want to do this again and again. I want to be called out as a multiple world champion, and spoken about like some of the greats of the game. It was tough after winning it last year, but you realise there’s lots left to achieve.
“Initially it was a bit like … what do I do now? But the desire is there to stay at the top of this game for as long as I can.” The riches that accompany such success have set Price and his young family up for life – he has invested in property as well as launching a darts academy in Wales to nurture the next generation of stars.
It is all a far cry from just a few years ago, when Price was struggling to make it as a professional in rugby and wondering what was next. Household names such as Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright will fancy their own chances at the Palace over the coming weeks, but as he has proven so many times in the past, it would take a brave man to write off Gerwyn Price.