WHEN IT comes to the PDC’s version of the World Championship, Leeds is not known as a darts hotbed.
But the city does have a representative in this year’s William Hill-sponsored event, even if he is flying Kiwi flag.
Qualifier Mark McGrath was born and raised in Leeds, before emigrating to New Zealand in the 1980s.
The former Holt Park Middle School pupil will face No 4 seed Gary Anderson – the 2013 runner-up – in a first-round match tonight, if he defeats American hope Scott Kirchner in a preliminary tie earlier this evening.
Ranked as a 2000-1 shot to win the title, McGrath, 46, is making his World Championship debut, after winning the New Zealand qualifying tournament in July.
Kirchner, a year younger, is also an unknown quantity and McGrath admitted he had to Google the American for details of his opening opponent, but with a high-profile match awaiting the winner, both men will be giving it their all.
“He is a bit of a soft-tip player, but he will be tough,” McGrath – nicknamed The Cowboy – said of Kirchner.
“That’s how I like it. It is good exposure, for sure. It is every darts player’s dream to go on that big stage.
“I feel blessed, but I have worked hard for it over the years.”
McGrath, now from Palmerston North, beat competition from 16 countrymen in a one-day tournament to qualify for Alexandra Palace.
His victims included last year’s Kiwi representative at the World Championships Rob Szabo and, having competed three times in the World Masters, McGrath, is no stranger to big events.
Darts is beginning to make its mark in New Zealand, where the Leeds-born marksman has been among the top players for the past three years.
As part of that expansion McGrath will also be taking part in an Australasian tour – against leading opposition including 16-time world champion Phil Taylor and Adrian Lewis, the 2012 and 2013 winner – in the new year.
“That will be a great experience,” he said. “I will get to play both of them, because it’s like a Premier League set-up, with two events in New Zealand and one in Sydney.”
As for his chances tonight, McGrath knows there is no room for error if he is to book a meeting with Anderson, known as the Flying Scotsman.
“The preliminary round is very short course – best of seven legs,” he said. “That’s the main worry for me, because I am a lot better over the long format.
“But I am confident I can nail that one and then hopefully I’ll give Gary a real good run for his money.”
McGrath still has family friends in Leeds and will be visiting the city after his World Championship adventure ends.
“My wife wants to see where I grew up and went to school,” he said.
A keen United fan, McGrath was also a talented footballer and played as a left- or right-back for Yorkshire Amateur at the same time as future Leeds ace Brian Deane.
Meanwhile, Paul Hinks, from South Kirby, near Pontefract, is celebrating a decade in top-level darts, at the current World Championships.
Hinks, now 58, is one of the PDC’s leading referees.
He was introduced to the PDC by two-time World Champion Dennis Priestley, of Mexborough and made his debut on the big stage at the 2004 World Matchplay.