PLYMOUTH’s darting golden girl Maria O’Brien competes tomorrow night at the biggest tournament in the BDO calendar, namely the BDO World Darts Championship at the Indigo at the O2 in London, hoping to go one better than her run to the semi-finals last year.
She began her 2019 World Championship campaign with a 2-0 win over Deta Hedman before making a mockery of the bookies 1-6 quote to be beaten by Fallon Sherrock, when she swept the Milton Keynes thrower aside by two sets to nil, finishing with a three-dart average of 86.9 and was 43% on her doubles with six hit from 14.
But aspirations of competing in a BDO Ladies’ World Championship final at the Lakeside Country Club, Frimley Green were thwarted in the semi-finals.
Maria failed to replicate the outstanding form she showed the previous day and was defeated in two straight sets by Japan’s Mikuru Suzuki, who had never thrown a competitive dart until 2016.
Suzuki (pictured below) went on to take the title last year and it is the Japanese thrower who Maria will meet in her first match which will be shown live on Eurosport tomorrow night.
2019 was a year of highs and lows for the Business Development Manager. Following a disappointing performance in the Dutch Open she picked up good ranking points with a run to the semi-finals of the ladies’ singles, when competing in the Winmau 2019 Scottish Open at the Normandy Cosmopolitan Hotel in Renfrew.
Just four days after returning from Scotland, Maria was preparing to burn up more air miles when travelling to Slovakia for her next tournament.
And it was worth the journey as she produced one of her best ever performances on the pro circuit and claimed her first ever Category A title when she won the Slovak Open in the x-bionic® sphere in Šamorín.
There were two ranking events, the Slovak Open and Slovak Masters which carried order of merit points in both A and B BDO categories and O’Brien secured maximum ranking points in claiming her first title of 2019 by beating the World No.1 Lisa Ashton.
Asked how she felt after winning her first major, Maria replied: “Over the moon, Lisa was the last monkey off my back”.
Maria finished with a three-dart average of 91.9 and looked towards improving her ranking further when she contested the PokerStars Isle of Man International Darts Festival in March, but sadly, failed to show the rich vein of from that won her the Slovak Open.
The British Internationals were contested as a tri-tournament between England, Scotland and Wales at the beginning of April, hosted at the Glenrothes Recreation and Social Club in Fife.
England Ladies’ first opponents were Wales and they swept them aside by a 6-0 margin.
Maria (23.48) put the first point on the board when she defeated Katie Bellerby 3-0 after opening up with a 16-darter.
England ladies had one eye on the championship title when they lined up against Scotland and Maria (26.84) again won in three straight legs.
She took the first two in 20 and 18 and narrowly missed a checkout of 160 for what would have been a win in 15, but she put the game to bed on her next visit when taking the leg in 18.
England took the next three through Fallon Sherrock (20.88), Deta Hedman (23.48) and Casey Gallagher (22.43) to win 5-1 and claim the British ladies’ title with just one set lost from the 12 played.
The week after Maria travelled to Grietherstrasse, to contest the Bull’s German Open and Bull’s Darts Masters but in both events had her title hopes dented by the four-times world champion, Lisa Ashton.
The publication at the end of April of the England Darts National Rankings, showed Maria O’Brien as the country’s No.1 ranked lady player on 781 points, and her success was rewarded by being chosen to represent England at both the Six Nations and World Cup.
Despite carrying an injury, Maria O’Brien made the decision to travel to Denmark in early May to compete in both the 2019 Søgaard Denmark Open and Masters, at the Granly Hockey Arena, Vardevej, Esbjerg.
It was a star-studded field, one of the most competitive since the BDO World Championship at Lakeside, and O’Brien made a good start in the Open with a 4-0 defeat of Norway’s Vibeke Solvik.
She then took the scalp of Denmark’s Merethe Kallehauge Moller again in four straight legs before falling in the last 32 to a 4-0 defeat by Fallon Sherrock.
Unfortunately, it did not get any better the following day and Maria bowed out of the Denmark Masters to Australia’s Tori Kewish at the first hurdle.
The following weekend Maria gave a good account of herself at the Pontins Red Dragon Welsh darts tournament, held at Prestatyn Sands Holiday Park when, despite still carrying a shoulder injury, won her way through to the last eight of the ladies’ two major competitions.
The England National Championships took place at the Bunn Leisure Centre, Selsey, in mid-June, but it was not one of Maria’s better performances.
She began her assault on the England National Ladies’ Singles title with a 4-0 victory over Lisa Kennedy before defeating the No.7 seed Laura Turner 4-1, who earlier in the year won the Isle of Man Open.
The Business Development Manager then had another tough draw against Linda Ithurralde but won in four straight legs before losing by the same margin in the board final against Corrine Hammond.
Maria O’Brien sets herself very high standards so was naturally disappointed with her showing in the England Open Ladies’ Singles the following day.
She defeated Heather Lodge and Natalie Gilbert 4-0 and 4-1 respectively before the number nine seed went out in the last 32, when defeated 4-2 by Evonne Taylor.
But some confidence was restored on the Sunday when Maria and Lisa Ashton defeated Beau Greaves and Deta Hedman to lift the England Open Pairs title.
The following weekend, Maria was part of the Englnd team that won their fourth title in succession and their seventh in 10 years when the Six Nations Cup 2019 was hosted at De Bonte Wever in Assen, Netherlands.
England contested the first of their team matches against Northern Ireland, emerging 7-2 winners and repeated that score-line against Scotland to progress to the semi-finals.
England were drawn against Wales in their semi-final and OB won their all-important fifth point to put England into the final.
Northern Ireland were England’s surprise opponents in the ladies’ final after they had knocked out the Netherlands, but they could not replicate that form and were well beaten.
Sherrock again got England off to the perfect start when winning the opening leg in 14 before O’Brien won in 16, against the darts to put England 2-0 up.
That soon became 3-0 when Winstanley won in 21 and O’Brien followed in 22 for a 4-0 lead.
It was left for Winstanley to have the glory and aided by a top score of 180 she checked out in 20 for a comprehensive 5-0 victory and another Six Nations title.
At the end of August Maria competed in the BDO World Trophy at the Kings Hall, Blackburn and came from behind to defeat Deta Hedman in the last 16.
Unfortunately, Maria could not replicate that form in the quarter-finals and lost 4-1 to Anastasia Dobromyslova.
The England Championships came next in the calendar and Maria gave a good account of herself at the Bunn Leisure Centre, Selsey, when she won her way to the semi-finals of the England Masters only to be denied a place in the final by 15-year-old Beau Greaves.
Unfortunately, Maria lost in the opening round of the England Classic when losing to Wendy Reinstadtler and found Lisa Ashton too good once again in the England Matchplay.
Maria had a change of fortunes in November 2019 when she contested the final of the INDO Irish Singles final in Killarney against Deta Hedman and did not disappoint.
Maria won the opening leg in 17 when finishing in two darts from 100 but despite going 2-0 up when winning the next, Hedman took four on the bounce including legs in 14 and 16.
Four ton plus scores followed by her first dart at double 16 enabled OB to win the seventh leg in 13 and aided by a maximum 180, she checked out the first time of asking to make it 4-4, before two 18-darters enabled her to emerge a 6-4 winner.
Maria has the game to beat any lady player in the world on her day. I for one hope that tomorrow will be one of those days.