August 2, 2021

Q-School 2021: All change at darts’ dream factory

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Five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld, former world finalist Kevin Painter and ‘Queen of the Palace’ Fallon Sherrock are among the names bidding to claim a PDC Tour Card at 2021 Qualifying School, which takes place from February 8-17

By Josh Gorton

Last Updated: 03/02/21 10:22pm

Van Barneveld insists he's got unfinished business as he eyes a sensational return to the sport Van Barneveld insists he's got unfinished business as he eyes a sensational return to the sport

Van Barneveld insists he’s got unfinished business as he eyes a sensational return to the sport

Qualifying School – darts’ very own dream factory. For some it is the opportunity of a lifetime, for others it is the last chance to salvage their professional status.

However, with more than 650 players vying for a two-year Tour Card with the Professional Darts Corporation, this year’s Qualifying School promises to be very different.

There will be 29 Tour Cards available at the respective Q-Schools in Milton Keynes and Niedernhausen – 18 at UK Q-School and 11 at European Q-School – but there has been a notable change in the format.

To ensure that both the UK and European events can be staged under COVID-secure conditions, this year’s Q Schools have been split into two separate stages, with proceedings taking place between February 8-17.

PDC Q-School: All you need to know

  • Over 650 entrants – 29 two-year Tour cards available. 18 at UK Q-School, 11 at European Q-School
  • With 18 players through to Final Stage of European Q-School, Stage One will be forced to produce 110 players
  • With 32 players through to Final Stage of UK Q-School, Stage One will be forced to produce 96 players
  • 11 Tour cards awarded in Niedernhausen – the winner of all four days + 7 from a four-day Order of Merit
  • 18 Tour cards awarded in Milton Keynes – the winner of all four days + 14 from a four-day Order of Merit

Players who relinquished their Tour Card following the 2020 season will be exempt to the Final Stage of Q-School, alongside those ranked inside the top 16 on either the Challenge Tour or Development Tour Order of Merit.

This will be preceded by a three-day Stage One of Qualifying School, where any player over the age of 16 is permitted to compete for a place in the Final Stage. Stage 1A will be played from February 8-10, with Stage 1B taking place from February 11-13.

The last four players from each of the three days in Stage One will progress to the Final Stage, and they will be joined by the highest ranked players on the Q-School Order of Merits, until the full round of 128 players per venue is produced.

Notable Stage One entrants at UK Q-School include former world finalists Kevin Painter and Mark Dudbridge, ex-Premier League star Wes Newton, BDO world champion Wayne Warren and a certain Fallon Sherrock.

Former BDO world champions Richie Burnett and Scott Mitchell are among the names to headline the Final Stage, alongside two-time major winner Robert Thornton and 2018 World Championship semi-finalist Jamie Lewis.

“I’m feeling very confident in the way that I’m playing. I am inspired so much. I want to go, I want to get the Tour Card. I want to join Lisa [Ashton], because I know I’ve got the game, and if Lisa can do it, it gives me belief that I can do it.”

Sherrock inspired by Ashton success

One of the game’s all-time greats will grace the opening stage of European Q-School, as five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld bids to return to the professional circuit, just over a year since retiring from the sport.

The doyen of Dutch darts will feature in Stage One alongside three-time women’s world champion Anastasia Dobromyslova, emerging German youngster Nico Kurz and former Lakeside semi-finalists Richard Veenstra and Michael Unterbuchner.

Dutch duo Benito van de Pas and Jan Dekker are among those exempt to the Final Stage having surrendered their Top 64 status in 2020, while former World Cup quarter-finalist Martin Schindler is also bidding to regain his place on the Pro Tour circuit.

For many, Qualifying School represents one of the highlights of the darting calendar. Its pits some of the game’s greats against budding amateurs, and it has produced its fair share of remarkable narratives over recent years.

In 2014, Gerwyn Price decided to compete at Q-School following encouragement from his fellow countryman Barrie Bates, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Recently-crowned world champion Gerwyn Price progressed through Qualifying School in 2014 Recently-crowned world champion Gerwyn Price progressed through Qualifying School in 2014

Recently-crowned world champion Gerwyn Price progressed through Qualifying School in 2014

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‘The Iceman’ was an unknown quantity seven years ago; now he’s the world champion and the world No 1, having shattered a whole host of records in the process.

Despite the rewards on offer, it can be an extremely unforgiving environment, particularly for more seasoned campaigners; who are forced to contend with hundreds of hopefuls eyeing their prized scalp.

Former world No 1 Colin Lloyd is no stranger to such pressures and he provided an honest assessment of his struggles following his solitary Qualifying School appearance in 2018.

“I’ve only been to Q-School once and I have to say, I absolutely hated it. That is when I realised: ‘You know Lloydy, you’ve had your time’,” Lloyd told the Darts Show podcast.

“That’s what I would call it, unfinished business. I don’t think I was ready to come off the Tour. I am throwing really well now. I’m not disrespecting the 128 players already on the tour, but I’m more than good enough to be on that Tour still.”

Painter eyeing Pro Tour return…

“Basically you’ve got to go there with the mindset that you’re going to a big knockout. You’re going to a big open. You have just got to stay focused all day, treat it as an open competition where there is £1,000 to the winner.

“We know there is a lot more available. You get that Tour Card; there are so many events that you can then play for the next two years. You are competing with the big boys.

“For me it is all about attitude. You have to go there with that mindset and you’ve got to have that winning feeling within you. You have got to have that fire burning within your belly.

“You’ve got players that have been major winners. There are so many names, and that’s what is going to make it so very difficult, but also very enjoyable, to watch it all pan out. It’s just going to be an absolute joy to watch.”

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