World Cup of Darts 2020: William O'Connor discusses Republic of Ireland's World Cup bid and opens up on lockdown struggles
William O'Connor helped Republic of Ireland reach the final of last year's World Cup of Darts; The 2020 World Cup of Darts will take place from November 6-8 at the Salzburgarena in Austria, and you can watch the action live on Sky Sports Arena from midday Friday.
By Josh Gorton
Last Updated: 05/11/20 9:17pm
Having defied the odds at last year's World Cup of Darts, William O'Connor will be hoping for a repeat performance in Austria. Yet after being pitted against Australia in round one, Republic of Ireland's seeded status appears to be a poisoned chalice rather than a reward.
O'Connor and Steve Lennon defeated the two biggest darting powerhouses in last year's tournament, overcoming top seeds England in the last 16 before claiming the scalp of defending champions Netherlands to progress to the final.
However, they face a huge test against former finalists Australia in their 2020 opener, and O'Connor admitted he couldn't help but chuckle at the prospect of taking on a resurgent Simon Whitlock and the emerging Damon Heta for a place in round two.
"First round this year we're playing Australia - I'd sooner not be seeded when you get a draw like that," O'Connor jokingly told Sky Sports.
"When the draw came out I l just looked and I started laughing for a minute. I thought 'yeah, that's what happens when you become a seed'. What can you do? There are a lot of easier draws there, but I suppose there are tougher draws as well."
Republic of Ireland are also on the same side of the draw as tournament favourites Netherlands, defending champions Scotland and the highly-fancied Wales, though O'Connor insists they can take solace from their exploits last summer.
"There's lots of good memories from last year, absolutely. We didn't go into last year's tournament expecting to do particularly fantastic," he added.
Friday's World Cup of Darts - First Round matches
|Afternoon from 12pm||Evening from 6pm|
|Lithuania v Gibraltar||Sweden v Greece|
|Portugal v Hungary||Japan v Scotland|
|New Zealand v Denmark||Poland v South Africa|
|Northern Ireland v Canada||Republic of Ireland v Australia|
|Belgium v Czech Republic||Wales v Russia|
|Austria v USA||Germany v Finland|
|England v Philippines||Netherlands v Brazil|
|Italy v Spain||Hong Kong v Latvia|
"If you look at the draw we had, it was probably one of the worst draws you can get, so we went in with the intentions of playing well and whatever happens, happens."
The prestige of representing your country can be a burden for many, but O'Connor thrived under the spotlight, posting a stunning 115.10 average to defeat Rob Cross in their last-16 success against England.
'The Magpie' excelled in the singles format, whilst the unassuming Lennon flourished in the pairs contests - starring in their last-four triumph over the Netherlands. As a partnership, they complemented each other superbly.
"Steve doesn't cause any problems, just does his thing, plays his darts, loves what he does. He's easy enough to play with," the Irishman said.
"We had a game-plan between us and we stuck to it. We're no different to anyone else, we don't play doubles either, but we know that as well.
"We sit down, we talk about it, we put everything on the table and see what we have and try to come up with some sort of game-plan to go ahead with."
The honour of representing your country is the pinnacle for many sporting stars, but the World Cup also represents an opportunity for O'Connor to build on last weekend's solid showing at the European Championship in Oberhausen.
The 34-year-old initially missed out on qualification, only to be handed a reprieve following Glen Durrant's withdrawal. He duly capitalised, defeating top seed Joe Cullen and Jamie Hughes before succumbing to eventual finalist James Wade.
Despite appearing in just his second individual major quarter-final, the Limerick star wasn't entirely satisfied with his efforts, which elevated him to 36th on the PDC Order of Merit.
"I found myself very up and down - just not consistent enough. I'm struggling a little bit with my grip at the minute. I just picked up some bad habits and I need to drop them, that's all.
World Cup of Darts schedule
|Friday November 6||8 x First-Round matches||Afternoon|
|8 x First-Round matches||Evening|
|Saturday November 7||4 x Second-Round matches||Afternoon|
|4 x Second-Round matches||Evening|
|Sunday November 8||4 x Quarter-Finals||Afternoon|
|Semi-Finals & Final||Evening|
"I'm working hard on that and that will be my focus for the World Cup. Every time I stand there, I'll just be thinking: 'Just throw the dart, throw it right, hold it right'.
"At the end of the day if you throw the dart right, stand right and your fundamentals are right and you believe what you're doing is right - if you focus on that, not a lot can go wrong."
It seemed that not much could go wrong for O'Connor at the start of the year, when he was unveiled as one of nine challengers set to feature in the 2020 Premier League.
The World Cup finalist took on world No 1 Michael van Gerwen in Dublin back in February, producing a spirited display - albeit in a 7-4 reverse.
Nevertheless, O'Connor's electrifying entrance generated the majority of the Night Four headlines, as he received a rapturous reception from 10,000 adoring fans when he came out to 'Zombie' by The Cranberries.
"I couldn't keep myself motivated and when you don't know when you're going to be playing again, it's very hard to focus."
O'Connor on his lockdown struggles
"You know what, I had it in my head for years that if I ever got the opportunity, that's what I'm going to do.
"In fairness, it was exactly what I had in my head and more. It was one of the best nights of my life. It was very hard to focus after that, I can tell you," O'Connor quipped.
It was a night O'Connor will never forget, in a season ultimately wrought with disruption and uncertainty.
Players were forced to endure a hiatus totalling nearly four months due to COVID-19 and O'Connor is refreshingly candid about his struggle for motivation during this period.
"Basically [it's been] one big struggle for me. I found it very hard early on at the start of the year trying to keep motivated to practice and actually keep my game up there, but I didn't," he admitted.
"I couldn't keep myself motivated and when you don't know when you're going to be playing again, it's very hard to focus.
PDC Calendar - remaining events
|World Cup of Darts||November 6-8|
|Grand Slam of Darts qualifier||November 9|
|Winter Series||November 10-14|
|Grand Slam of Darts||November 16-24|
|Players Championship Finals||November 27-29|
|World Youth Championship final||November 29|
|PDPA World Championship qualifier||November 30|
|World Darts Championship||TBC|
"Then when the darts started coming back, I was putting in the time again, but obviously there was a lot of rust and a lot of cobwebs there, so I'm just trying to get back some sort of form, some sort of consistency more than anything else."
There is certainly cause for optimism for the Irishman, who recently took the plunge and became a full-time professional, courtesy of the considerable strides he's made over the last 18 months.
'The Magpie' is closing in on a place in the world's top 32 and with a series of major televised events on the horizon, he's confident that he's rediscovering his form when it matters most.
"Everything is on schedule for me as far as I'm concerned. I'm practising hard again now and in fairness I am slowly getting there. It's just little things that I needed to make more consistent.
"It's not a case of I need to work harder, I just need to do little things right and if I can do that, I can play my best. If I can play my best, regardless of the result I'm very very happy.
"That's all I want - go out there, play my best, have no regrets and just walk off that stage happy."
Don't miss a dart at this weekend's World Cup of Darts - the action gets underway from 12pm on Friday on Sky Sports Arena and we will have all six sessions as the new champions are crowned.