After having nightmares when hopes of World Championship glory were dashed by Peter Wright last year, Michael Smith saw all his dreams come true with a thrilling victory over Michael Van Gerwen at Alexandra Palace on Tuesday night.
Smith was inconsolable 12 months ago when he appeared to be within touching distance of lifting the Sid Waddell Trophy with a 5-4 lead and had the darts at 2-0 to go within a set of a maiden major title, only for Wright to mount a fine recovery.
‘Bully Boy’ – who also lost out on the 2019 PDC world crown to Dutchman Van Gerwen – finally broke his major title duck with victory in the Grand Slam of Darts during November following what had been a painful run of eight defeats in televised finals.
Despite all of the near misses, late capitulations and heart-breaking all-so-nears, Smith was always convinced he had it in him to be the best.
“I know I’m a world champion, it’s just I’ve got to win it to prove it now,” Smith said in an interview with the PA news agency in early 2022.
“The second one was harder to lose, but it was easier to get over than the first loss.”
Smith added: “I keep telling myself as soon as I get the first one (major title), it’s a game-changer and then I get to get more.
“I just have to keep believing in myself and focused, practicing the way I do and not telling myself ‘you keep getting beat’.”
Merseyside-born Smith, a big fan of St Helens rugby league club, first caught the darts bug as a teenager when he was recovering from a broken hip after falling off his bike on the way to school.
Having studied joinery at college, Smith – whose nickname came from working on a cattle farm in Littleborough when he “got slammed in cowpats and cow’s muck” – went on to pursue a professional darts career which would see him make his World Championship debut in 2012 and go on to win the world Youth title the following year.
One of the quickest players on the PDC tour, Smith had always shown the potential of a game to match the best, which he delivered against Van Gerwen – landing a brilliant nine-dart finish early in the final.
Smith also took home a winner’s cheque for £500,000, which will go towards safeguarding his family’s future.
“Even a year ago, I’d given up, but we had just bought a new house and the money I shell out every month on mortgages, I can’t afford to give darts away and lose matches,” Smith said ahead of the 2022 final.
“If I miss mortgages, we are out on the streets. We are homeless. I know it adds added pressure, but it is keeping me focused.
“I have to keep ready. It has been showing what I have been working on for the last 12 months has worked.”
Anyone who witnessed the manner of his 7-4 victory over Van Gerwen at Alexandra Palace on Tuesday night will testify to that.