The Mullingar Shamrocks team. Back (L-R): Kevin McKnight, Willow McLoughlin, Keith Mahon, Brandon Gilsenan, Aidan Reilly and Billy Conway. Front: Ross Kelly, Ger McLoughlin, Mickey McKnight, Sean Farrelly, Sylvester Keane and Joe Farrelly.

Moate side better Shamrocks in darts final

Grand Hotel Moate 5 Mullingar Shamrocks 0

For many years the Westmeath darts league final has played out in just routine fashion: a drab annual atmosphere with generally tepid engagement from the audience.

But on Friday week last in Bagnall’s superb venue in Rochfortbridge, a raucous atmosphere ensued as two fine teams toed the oche for the right to become Westmeath champions, an honour which went to the Grand Hotel, Moate.

It was an ideal setting and contributed to the kind of finale people like Loughlin McHugh, who has led darts for many years in the county, could only have dreamed of.

“I’ve never seen a crowd like this at a league final in this county,” he beamed as he soaked up the atmosphere in what could only be described as a cauldron. Think of the likes of the famous Lakeside and Circus Tavern which preceded the Ally Pally and you can visualise the kind of setting for this final, obviously on a smaller scale.

After the first game there was one more audible roar than the rest, perhaps an effort to gain an edge or to send out a message of intent. In any event, the Moate men did their talking on the dart board and won very emphatically on a 5-0 scoreline after some outstanding darts.

Defending champions Mullingar Shamrocks, despite their honourable efforts, were almost confined to the role of spectators but they are much more competent than the scoreline suggests and on any given night it’s a close match between these pair.

This occasion was just an exception and Moate were in unstoppable form against their shellshocked opponents. Leading the way was Ben Corcoran with a couple of ton-plus finishes on the night, the first of which came in the doubles (110) which were usurped by the insatiable Moate men.

They won all three games to take a commanding lead and with the likes of Corcoran, Sean Waters and Mark Corrigan waiting in the singles, this match looked done and dusted at early stage.

The lead was duly affirmed as being unassailable when Corcoran and Waters wrapped it up very quickly by winning the first two singles - Corcoran’s superb 122 finish helping him deny an impressive effort from Sylvester Keane, who did his utmost to ignite a Mullingar revival as he waited in vain on a double.

If Corcoran was clinical with his checkout, that same ruthless baton was passed on to Waters, who took out 70 twice to deny Westmeath singles champion Ross Kelly. He knew he’d have to play to that level, obviously and the fact that his team had a 4-0 cushion just heaped further pressure on Kelly, whose scoring exchanges were excellent in a quickfire clash of the highest standard. He just couldn’t get a look at a double.

Ironically, while the food was delivered in copious amounts by the generous hosts, Mullingar Shamrocks lived off scraps on the oche and they just couldn’t get into their stride, or perhaps were never allowed to. Momentum was something they could only crave. That is the story of this darts final, in many ways an anti-climax for the neutral, but an intriguing game for anoraks of the sport.

There were no maximums on the night, that’s perhaps one of the disappointments, but it doesn't take from the overall standard and it would be churlish in the extreme not to acknowledge an outstanding victory by Moate against a very gritty opponent.

If Mullingar could have taken a doubles game - the impressive Mickey McKnight, who shot a fine 70 finish, had a chance with three darts at tops - the pendulum may have swung. On all evidence, though, Moate seemed to have every angle covered.

Westmeath darts has found new champions and a new venue. Other teams must now step up their effort, perhaps a recruitment drive should be on for some as they try and challenge this fine Moate side. Things can only get better.

Following the final, Loughlin McHugh presented the runner-up prizes to Kevin McKnight, captain of the Mullingar Shamrocks side and Ross Kelly was generous his praise of the new champions and very magnanimous in defeat.

Damien Claffey accepted the cup in behalf of the Grand Hotel, paying tribute to their opponents and acknowledging the work of Loughlin McHugh and his small committee in ensuring darts continues to thrive in the county.

Grand Hotel, Moate squad: Ben Corcoran, Mark Dolan, Tommy Dolan, Mark Corrigan, Damien Claffey, Graham Corcoran, Ken Allen, Anthony Blacoe, Mick Evans, Gary McCormack, Sean Waters, Ian Simpson.

Mullingar Shamrocks squad: Ross Kelly, Sylvester Keane, Mickey McKnight, Brandon Gilsenan, Keith Mahon, Aidan Reilly, Gerard McLoughlin, Joe Farrelly, Wilo McLoughlin, Billy Conway, Kevin McKnight, Sean Farrelly.