THE BDO World Professional Darts Championship begins on Saturday at the Lakeside Country Club in Frimley Green and Plymouth’s Maria O’Brien will be in the line-up for the second time in her career.
She made her debut appearance in the World Championships of 2018, disappointingly losing in the opening round, but put that disillusionment behind her to produce some accomplished performances throughout the remainder of the year, which enabled her to climb to 10th place in the world rankings and claim her spot for the second time in the BDO's top tournament of the year.
Following her early Lakeside exit last January, Maria (pictured below) won ranking points in her next tournament when she reached the last eight of the Dutch Open and repeated that placing in the Scottish Open at Renfrew.
In March, Maria competed in the Isle of Man Festival of Darts, and further boosted her world ranking with two good singles performances from the three she played in.
On the opening day of the tournament, O’Brien struggled in the opening round to defeat London’s Leanne Topper 3-2 and was then crestfallen when she bowed out of the Isle of Man Classic singles when beaten 3-0 by Welsh international Rhian Griffiths.
But good darts players turn poor form around, and that is exactly what the Business Development Manager did the following day when competing in the Isle of Man Masters.
Following three straight victories, including the scalp of the World No.3 Aileen de Graaf she then had to meet the current World champion Lisa Ashton in the last eight.
O’Brien rallied well and took Ashton to 3-3 but despite leaving a shot at double tops for a famous victory, the Lancashire Rose did not need a second bite at her finishing double, only to leave O’Brien thinking what could have been.
In April, Maria won a call up to represent her country in the British Internationals and was one of only two England lady players to remain undefeated as the team regained their title they lost the previous year.
Her best performance came in the defeat of Wales when O’Brien inspired England to victory on the opening night, on what was her international debut, by claiming the lady-of-the-match award with a 26.10 average.
Maria went in search of more World Championship ranking points at the end of April, when she competed in the Denmark Open at the Granly Hockey Arena, Esbjerg.
She won her opening match 4-0 before defeating Polish thrower Karolina Podgorska 4-1, aided by two maximums in a 12-dart leg, before winning the next to meet none other than the World’s No.1 ranked player at the time, Lorraine Winstanley.
But the BDO’s top lady player held no fears and Maria swept her aside 4-1. She then went on to win the board final before meeting Australian Corrine Hammond in the last eight.
Maria won the early exchanges and led 3-1 only to finally bow out to the 2017 World Championship runner-up 4-3, but valuable ranking points were gained.
At the end of May, Maria contested the BDO World Darts Trophy at Preston Guild Hall where she was drawn to play the reigning champion Aileen De Graaf in the round of 16, and although the 28-year-old Dutch thrower moved to within one leg of victory, when she finished an 18-dart leg with a kill of 119, that was the last game she was to win.
O’Brien levelled by taking the sixth leg in 18 and then, against the throw, secured the match-winning seventh game in 17 for a single dart average of 26.35.
Fallon Sherrock was O’Brien’s next opponent but despite Maria going 3-0 up in 20, 25 and 19 she was finally edged out 4-3 and cruelly denied a place in the semi-final.
The four-time BDO Ladies’ World Champion Lisa Ashton halted Maria’s progress once again in a major competition when she defeated her in the England National Singles at Bunn Leisure, Selsey.
Despite taking Ashton the full distance, Maria was eventually edged out 4-3 in the round of 16.
The English Open title was competed for the following day and O’Brien got to the quarter-finals before again going down by the narrowest of margins to her doubles partner Deta Hedman (pictured above).
The following weekend Maria competed in the Winmau LDO Ladies’ Classic at The Blues Club, Gainsborough and after three 4-1 victories, lost 4-3 in the last eight to Beau Greaves.
Two weeks later, Maria became the first Devon darts player ever to reach the final of the BDO Gold Cup singles, only to be denied by Lisa Ashton at the Magna Centre, Rotherham.
The first two legs of the final were shared before OB edged in front for the first time with a 16-darter, aided by a maximum 180.
The Lancashire Rose, then showed her credentials when she checked out from 81 for a 12-darter, having previously thrown three consecutive 140s.
Ashton then won in 17 to move 3-2 in front and then went two legs in front for the first time when taking the next for a 4-2 lead.
She won that leg in 15 after she scored 378 points with her last nine darts including a checkout of 153.
Maria reduced the deficit when taking the seventh leg in 18 only for the Bolton thrower to start the eighth leg with 140-140-100-103 and although she bust on her next throw, hit double nine with the first dart of her next visit to win in 16 and claim the coveted title.
The following weekend, Maria picked up valuable ranking points from the BDO Gateway Open and the Welsh Masters at the Gateway Resort, Llanelli, South Wales, and moved into the World’s top 10 for the first time.
She was now the sixth top English player in the rankings and showed that form in the weekend’s opening tournament when, with partner Deta Hedman, the duo won the International Ladies’ doubles.
Plymouth’s England International carried that form into the BDO Gateway Open the following day and despite a tough battle in her opening match, edged out Nikki Goldsmith 4-3.
She then had a brilliant 4-1 victory over Fallon Sherrock before going down by the narrowest of margins in the last 16 to Trina Gulliver.
At the end of September, after a quiet summer, Maria was selected to represent England in the 2018 Europe Cup.
The tournament started with the team event and England ladies were on top of their game when winning all their group matches to claim a semi-final spot against Sweden.
In a very well contested encounter, the score stood at 7-7 before Maria shot out to edge England in front at 8-7 followed by a win from Deta Hedman which put the team in the final against The Netherlands.
The final was surprisingly one-sided with England defeating their Dutch opponents 9-1 to claim the title of team champions with Maria boasting wins over Sharon Prins, Anca Zijlstra and achieving the match-winning point when defeating Vanessa Zuidema.
Maria got to the last eight of the singles before bowing out 5-1 to Dutch thrower Femke Herms but made amends in the pairs when, with her partner Deta Hedman, the duo won the gold medal when defeating England team-mates Lorraine Winstanley and Fallon Sherrock 6-5 in an absorbing final.
At the end of the tournament, the table showed that England ladies had won the title of European champions by no fewer than 91 points from second place The Netherlands.
In her last major tournament of 2018, Maria bid for a place in the William Hill World Championship where just two places for female players were put on offer following the tournament’s recent expansion.
In one of her best ever performances, from a field of 153 players she got to the final, where once again she was beaten by arguably the best lady player on the planet, Lisa Ashton (pictured above).
In reaching the final, Maria had a 5-2 victory over Deta Hedman, and she will hope to replicate that form when she meets The Dark Destroyer in round one of the BDO World Championships.
The event is being televised by Eurosport and Maria O'Brien v Deta Hedman is scheduled to be shown live at 3.30pm on Sunday.
Should Maria win this encounter, and on recent form she has every chance, she would then meet the winner of Fallon Sherrock v Corrine Hammond for a place in the semi-final.