For most, reaching the PDC World Championship final is a blessing. Kirk Shepherd would argue that it was more of a curse.

“I think (the World Championship) might have been a bit too much, too soon for me,” Shepherd, the youngest ever PDC world finalist, told the Darts Show podcast. “I didn’t gradually make TV appearances and then have a good run – it was overnight, straight to the final.
“In a way, I wish I had never done it.”
The then 21-year-old former sheet metal worker caused an almighty shock at the 2008 World Championship. After surviving match darts Shepherd saw off Terry Jenkins. He then did the same against Mick McGowan and Peter Manley, with a win over Barrie Bates sandwiched between them. A 6-4 win over Wayne Mardle later, he was a world finalist who hadn’t even managed a 90+ average on the Ally Pally stage.
Eventually, John Part ended the fairytale. The Canadian won his third world title with a comfortable 7-2 win over Shepherd. The Ramsgate-based ace posted the lowest average seen in the PDC World Championship final, and admitted that the pressure was too much to handle.
“For someone who wasn’t classed as a top player, I felt it didn’t let me relax and play how I wanted to,” he admitted.
“It was like a ton of weight on my shoulders.”

PDC

Photo: PDC

Battling back

After the Alexandra Palace adventure, Shepherd drifted into the darting wilderness. He reached the last 32 of the UK Open in 2011, 2013 and most recently in 2017. But apart from that, his name has rarely appeared on the billing for a TV tournament.
It has even led to him losing his PDC Tour Card multiple times. Shepherd was back in Wigan for Q-School in January, reaching the Tour Card final on day one and repeating the feat on day four, this time beating Kevin Painter to secure his spot on the Tour until December 2020. His feelings about Q-School can be summed up in two words: never again.
“I’ve had to go back a few times now and it’s not something I want to keep doing. The aim is to try and stay in the top 64 – but I seem to have it sussed out when I get there!” he joked.
“It’s a gruelling four days that is getting tougher and tougher. The standard is increasing and I really don’t want to be back there.”

Looking ahead

Now two more years of Pro Tour darts are secured, Shepherd can focus on his future. Two UK Open appearances are certain. And 30 Players Championship events offer a lot of opportunities to pick up ranking money. Having made such an impact at the World Championship before, Shepherd wouldn’t mind an Ally Pally repeat. But he knows that it won’t be easy.
“Over the next two years, the target is to get into the top 64 and keep my card. There is always a part of me that wants to get back to the World Championship too, so those are the aims.
“When you turn up, you are looking for consistency and good runs. Last year, halfway through I was heading back to Ally Pally but then just fell off the radar. You need to be consistent.”

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Author: Ed McCosh