WDF World Championships: Neil Duff 'bursting' to get back on Lakeside stage

Reigning World Darts Federation (WDF) World champion, Neil Duff, is counting down the days until he makes his return to the Lakeside stage in a bid to defend the title he won last year.
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The Ballyclare man was crowned World darts champion at the Lakeside Country Club on April 10 2022 thanks to a thrilling 6-5 triumph over Thibault Tricole, enjoying a 87.73 average in the process.

Duff, who made it to last year’s showpiece thanks to wins over over Justin Thompson, Nick Fullwell, Jim McEwan and Richard Veenstra, received £50,000 on top of the trophy following his victory in what was his debut championship campaign at Frimley Green.

Neil made history as the first world darts champion from Northern Ireland.

Neil Duff won the WDF World Championship in April 2022. (Pic: Contributed).Neil Duff won the WDF World Championship in April 2022. (Pic: Contributed).
Neil Duff won the WDF World Championship in April 2022. (Pic: Contributed).

This year’s tournament returns to the iconic venue in Surrey on Saturday, December 2, with the finals on Sunday, December 10.

The Northern Irishman's title defence starts on December 5 when he faces either Moreno Blom or Gabor Tákács.

Ahead of the tournament, Duff spoke to the Newtownabbey Times to reflect on last year’s triumph and the experiences he has enjoyed since being crowned world champion.

He said: “There have been so many highlights over the past 20 months including going to Australia twice, winning one and losing in the final of another. Also, it was nice hearing me being a question on tv quiz shows Tipping Point and Eggheads.

“With the extended time from the last world championship in April of last year, I'm just bursting to get back on that iconic stage and being introduced on as the reigning world champion and defending that title.

“I'm expecting a lot of support, both from home and abroad attending the Lakeside. I love that, as I feed energy off the crowd and everyone last year helped me over the line.

"Afterwards I got videos sent from local bars and clubs as they watched the final and I can’t express how touched I was by them.

“With WDF, World Seniors, Modus Super Series and ADC, it's been so busy. I wouldn't have any idea just how many tournaments I’ve played in since winning the world title, but from April 2022 until now, I've racked up 176 flights, so that puts it in perspective.”

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WDF World Championships: Lakeside triumph ‘still sinking in’ for Neil Duff

Duff, who worked as a joiner from his teens until winning the title last year, has been able to visit new countries to compete in darts events now that he has moved to being a full-time player.

Detailing some of the experiences he has got to enjoy over the past year and a half, he stated: “Moama Australia is unreal, but my favourite places to have played are Bruges in Belgium, or Bratislava in Slovakia. Both are beautiful and great competitions to play in.

“With being full-time now I can afford myself the extra time to check places out. I love an early morning walk, so I get to see outside of darts. This is probably why I love Bruges so much, so being able to go for a walk along the canals and round the old square.

“I don't think I'd ever go back to full-time on the tools again, but with doing less travelling in 2024, I might do some part-time jobs for something to do.”

Although Duff is the first player from Northern Ireland to win a world title, the current champion, who was a latecomer to darts, believes the sport is in a healthy position across the country.

He explained: “Darts in Northern Ireland are thriving just now with the introduction of the ADC (Amateur Darts Circuit). I see a lot more youth players getting involved. And with me winning the ADC national finals in Bristol last month, this has had a positive effect on the vault events here.”

The former BDO world championship was traditionally played at the Lakeside in the New Year, with last year’s inaugural WDF world championship being played in April. However, this year sees the tournament being played in December, one week before the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) 2024 world championship commences.

Commenting on the development, Duff said: “December is a great time for it, in my opinion. April is mid ranking season, January being right after Christmas when people struggle to afford time off work, travel and tickets can be a strain.

"With the PDC worlds starting the week after, I think this is an ideal time for it.

“Moving to compete in the PDC isn't an option for me. With Modus SS and seniors, which I'm honoured to be playing all TV events in 2024, plus ADC taking off with its own tour, I can make a comfortable living from that. I’d maybe consider the move if I was 20 years younger!”

The 51-year-old, who did not start playing darts until his late twenties, has offered encouragement to anyone wishing to get involved in the sport.

He added: "My dad got me playing darts. He played a little at home so I started to play along then joined his team in the Ballyclare League.

“I moved up to county level, then the national team and I knew I could make a career from darts.

“Everyone can play this game, from ADC vaults, leagues, counties and tour events, there's something for any standard of player, even just for the fun of the game. The Northern Ireland Darts Organisation have also a great youth setup, plus the Junior Darts Academy in Carrickfergus on a Sunday morning.”

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