NOT one, but two Plymouth darts players have been chosen to represent their country when the 2018 British Internationals are hosted by Wales at the Penydarren Social Club, Merthyr Tydfil.
Maria O’Brien, who will be making her international debut and 16-year-old Keelan Kay, will don the white shirt of England when they participate in the tri-nation tournament against Scotland and Wales which begins on Friday.
Following an exceptional 12 months in 2017, Maria O’Brien earned her just rewards when the announcement was made in February that she had been awarded her first international call-up.
No player can get a bigger accolade and Plymouth’s own golden girl will make her England debut following in the footsteps of her Devon county team-mate Merryl Dennis.
Success in 2017 started for Maria as early as January, when she won the Romanian Classic and in March became the first lady darts player in the history of the Devon County Super League to hit a 10-dart leg.
In April, O’Brien made the semi-finals of the both the Winmau Ladies’ Classic Singles and the Winmau Ladies’ Classic doubles at The Blues Club, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.
The run to the semi-final of the singles included a 4-3 victory over the 2016 world championship runner-up Corrine Hammond before being denied a place in the final when bowing out 4-2 to the three-time world champion Anastasia Dobromyslova.
In June she won the Hampshire Open beating Laura Turner 5-1, finishing the sixth and decisive leg in 18 darts when checking out from 120.
O’Brien produced an eye-catching performance in July when she represented Devon in the ladies’ Gold Cup singles at The Magna Centre, Rotherham, only losing in the semi-final to an in-form Fallon Sherrock.
The same month, O’Brien went all the way to the final of the BDO Gateway International Open in Llanelli, with some outstanding performances before facing an in-form Anca Zijlstra who won 5-0, aided by an outshot of 167 and finishing with a 29.47 average.
In August Maria earned more ranking points when she competed in both the Swedish Classic and Swedish Open at Hotel Scandic Triangeln in Malmö.
O’Brien made the quarter-finals of the singles and the following day partnered Deta Hedman when contesting the Swedish pairs and the duo went all the way, defeating the all-Dutch combination of Aileen de Graaf and Sharon Prins 4-2 in the final.
In September, O’Brien and Hedman won the Winmau BDO British Open Pairs title at The Spa, Bridlington with another accomplished performance.
November saw her win the Devon Open title for the third time in as many years and in the British Inter County Championship match away at Cheshire, achieved her highest ever county average of 29.47.
Maria won 3-0 in 20, 18 and 13 with what proved to be the top average attained by any lady player in the British Isles that weekend.
O’Brien finished 2017 as the best lady player in the country, topping the county performance table with a 26.37 average from her four victories, after hitting highs of 25.47, 24.64 and 25.91 in the three matches before and was still top of the averages with seven straight wins at the end of March.
Her biggest achievement came when she qualified for the 2018 BDO World Championships but was disappointed in her performance when she was defeated in the quarter-final by Sharon Prins on her Lakeside debut.
But that defeat only rekindled her desire to make it to the very top in the ladies’ game and she will not be out of place when making her bow in the 2018 British Internationals.
Along with her England team mates, who will include captain Deta Hedman, Trina Gulliver, Fallon Sherrock, Lorraine Winstanley and Tricia Wright, the team will play the host country at 21.15 on Friday followed by Scotland at 13.45 the following day.
Keelan Kay has been here before and won his first international cap 12 months ago at the tender age of 15-years in the same tournament.
Despite being the youngest team member, the Plymouth Studio pupil took the chance of his young life with aplomb to win the accolade of Player of the Tournament when he remained undefeated throughout.
In a triangular fixture between England, Scotland and Wales, contested at the Cedar Court Hotel, Bradford, Keelan Kay produced form way above his tender 15-years-of age, and showed no nerves whatsoever, in front of the TV cameras.
England’s first test was against Wales and Kay demolished Darren Whelton 3-0 in 13, 14 and 22 for a remarkable single dart average of 30.67.
That average not surprisingly gave Kay the man-of-the-match award, has only been bettered once by any international youth player, in the history of the Home Internationals.
Kay also won well against Scotland and produced another excellent average of 26.05 as England were crowned British Youth champions.
Following those excellent performances, Kay was chosen by England again to participate in the Europe Cup where they finished as runners-up to a very strong Netherland side before he won the 2017 England Boys Open Singles title at Bunn Leisure, Selsey, Chichester.
Fellow England International Alex Gurr stood between Kay and a national title at his first attempt, but the Sussex thrower could not compete with the Plymothian’s onslaught.
Looking assured and confident and showing no nerves despite his tender years, Kay opened up with a win in 17 and then went 2-0 up with victory in 19.
Kay secured a 3-0 advantage when taking the next in 15, aided by three consecutive tons and then surged into a 4-0 lead with yet another leg in 15 to put him just one away from victory.
Not surprisingly, that victory came in the very next leg when he finished his third 15-darter in succession with an outshot of 114 to emerge as the new England Youth Open champion with an outstanding average of 30.93.
The same month, Kay won his first title on the JDC Modus Tour when he was victorious in tour event three at Rileys Sports Club, Worcester.
Keelan’s team mates this time around will be Alex Gurr (Sussex), Jack Vincent (Esssx) and Hertfordshire’s Brad Phillips and they will play both their matches on Friday evening against Scotland at 18.30 before they meet the host nation Wales at 20.15.