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‘Luke Littler effect’ inspiring young darts players

Tuesday nights have been transformed in the rural town of Edenderry in Co Offaly.

A darts room at the back of O’Donoghue’s pub has been buzzing for the last six weeks with unlikely customers; darts players aged 10 to 18 years old.

It is the latest venue across the country to see a surge in popularity in the sport.

The boom is mostly being attributed to the ‘Luke Littler effect’, after the recent successes of the English teenage darts sensation.

“He was a school kid up to fairly recently and to get to a world final at 16 years of age is just unheard of,” enthused John Downey.

Mr Downey, a darts player for over 30 years and chairman of Edenderry Darts Club for 15 years, stepped away from the role to help set up the Edenderry Darts Youth Academy in February.

“I don’t think we’ll see the likes of it again. Luke Littler is a role model for the kids and he’s an ambassador for darts. That’s what has the crowd here and I’m sure at other academies around Ireland, the UK and the whole world. It’s fantastic.”

The academy is something Mr Downey had wanted to do for a long time. After seeing the impact Luke Littler was having on young people, he decided it was the right time to get it up and running.

“The very first night we had an open night and we were expecting fifteen or maybe twenty kids. But that first night we had 44 kids, then over 50 and now we’re over 60,” according to Mr Downey.

His ten-year-old grandson Mikey said he enjoys playing with his friends, and the fact that his Grandad runs it.

Over 60 children have turned up for the Darts Youth Academy

“I like just coming down here, it splits up the day, and I like the training. I like Luke, he’s just very good for his age and I like watching him. He’s probably one of the best 16-year-olds.”

Twelve-year-old Sean has been playing darts since he was around five, his father is also interested in the sport. He is already a big fan of the academy.

“I absolutely love it. When it first came up I said I was going to it straightaway, and I haven’t regretted it since.”

Sean hopes he can make a career out of darts, but he is also a soccer player and said he is not sure which to go with.

The Academy is split into two groups, 10-13 year olds and 14-18 year olds.

“With the smaller kids we play around the board from 1-20 and 25 and back around to one again,” explained Mr Downey.

“We play blacks and whites where we give them so many lives, if they hit a black they lose a life and things like that.”

But the older teenagers are more competitive.

“They like playing competitions against one another so it is great for both groups. We split it into two groups because there were so many here on the first night.

“They seem to be getting on well and they seem to be enjoying it, and that’s the most important thing to us.”

John Downey decided to open the academy after the World Championships in December

For some of the players who are closer in age to Luke Littler, who turned 17 in January, his success and potential earnings are a motivating factor.

“He’s the one going to school and making quarter-of-a-million at the World Championships,” said 16-year-old Eric O’Loughlin.

“So, I thought this would be a good career if I ever get the chance to go pro.”

Shane Downey who is 17 years old thinks it is great for the community; “Ever since Luke Littler burst on to the scene there’s been a lot more young people throwing darts.”

While 16-year-old Conal Farrell thinks it is incredible for the sport.

“It shows the next generation what’s coming,” he said.

The competitive nature among this group means they not only have to have good skills and technique, but they need to be able to calculate scores quickly. Something that’s handy for darts…and school.

“I got 88% in my maths test the other day,” said 17-year-old Alex Holohan. “I never got that high before. It’s just from coming here and marking on the board and everything.”

Taking aim at the Edenderry Darts Academy

Another teen, 14-year-old Craig Kennedy is newly converted to the sport.

“I wasn’t pushed on it at first, but I said I’d keep at it, a good crowd turns up every week and it’s savage, I enjoy it.”

He has learned different ways to grip his darts and how to finish properly, saying it is not all about high scores.

When asked if it helped his maths at school he said, “100%”.

“I’m in higher level maths in school and straight off the ball its quick maths here, there and everywhere, so it definitely helps the game.

“It is all about calculations especially when it comes down to your finishing. When you’re left on big scores and you hit a treble, then you have to be screwed in upstairs, so that most definitely helps you.”

The venue at O’Donoghues pub has a dedicated darts room with four boards. It runs a tuck shop which is a big hit with some of the younger group, it plays darts competitions on a big screen, and music to keep the players motivated.

Like Mr Downey, the leaseholder of the pub Con Crombie said he always wanted to do something like this but never had a venue, until now.

“I think its brilliant. I really love it and I’m very surprised at the numbers that turned out for it. Luke Littler inspired a whole new generation for the sport of darts and it is great to see. It’s brilliant for the sport.”

He hopes they will “get a few good throwers” out of the Academy who can boost the future of the Edenderry Darts League.

The next generation of ‘throwers’ in Edenderry

While Mr Downey is confident of the upcoming talent among the players.

“We have a couple here we can see coming along. We could have the next Luke Littler here or the next Fallon Sherrock, who knows!

“If they believe in themselves anything is possible. You can tell by some of them that they’re practicing at home. A lot of the parents are telling me how great it is, and if there’s any chance that we can repair some of the holes in the walls at home where the younger lads are practicing.

“But it is great fun, and we’ve great fun here with them, and if they take it seriously and believe in themselves, anything can happen.”

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