LEIGH star Martyn Ridyard swaps the kicking tee for the Oche next Sunday as he aims to finish a momentous year with another piece of silverware.
The Kingstone Press Championship Player of the Year enjoyed a momentous season with home town club Leigh Centurions as they recorded the double as League Leaders and Grand Final winners.
Ridyard also picked up the coveted Tom Bergin Trophy as Man of the Match in Leigh’s victory over Featherstone Rovers at Headingley Carnegie in the Grand Final.
Now Ridyard aims for more glory as he pursues his other sporting passion- darts.
Ridyard is one of 18 competitors in the annual Bravo Inns Pubs Darts Challenge, having won through to finals day by winning four qualifying games at the Hilton Park pub in Leigh where landlord Bob Horton is a keen supporter and sponsor of the Centurions. Bravo Inns also sponsor pro darts player Andy Hamilton, known as ‘The Hammer.’
The final will be staged at the Toll Bar Inn in Horwich next Sunday starting at 1-30pm and Ridyard is sure of loud and passionate travelling support as he aims to go better than the semi-final place he achieved two years ago.
Ridyard’s passion for darts was nurtured as a youngster in the working men’s clubs of Leigh. “My dad’s always played and I’ve played since I was four years old,” he says. “They used to get me a stool to stand on. By 12 years old I was playing in the Youth League and when I was supposed to studying for my GCSEs I was up till 3am playing Darts and Dominoes in the British Legion alongside ex-Leigh players like Brian Brooks. You might call it the product of a mis-spent youth.”
So what’s harder - a difficult conversion attempt or a 180-dart finish? “Depends on what’s at stake, I suppose,” Ridyard says. “It’s the same kind of pressure. I once did a 170-finish in a tournament, two triple 20s and a Bull’s Eye which I was proud of. I think I may have dined out on that a few times.
“You see the top darts players and their level of consistency and performance. Phil Taylor is my darts hero for the way he has won everything but kept at the top so long and still strives to improve himself.
“Darts has changed so much. I remember the days of Eric Bristow and his like, with a pint and a cigarette in one hand and a dart in the other. You have to be pretty fit to play 19 sets of darts but I reckon most players still have a drink behind the stage.
“I suffer a bit from pre-match nerves. When I got to the semi-final, I was really nervous that day. But I can play pressure games without alcohol and playing tournament darts is all good experience.”
So would Ridyard have swapped his grand final win for winning a major darts tournament? “No, not at all,” he says. “But I’m determined to see how far I can go in darts, but maybe it’s mostly something for after my rugby career is over. Darren Mercer, my sponsor from Westco got me back playing seriously and he’s a big supporter of mine so I owe him a lot.”
Off the field the Leigh players have a keen rivalry at various games in the team-room. Sadly darts is banned on Health and Safety grounds. “That’s only because jokers like Jamie Acton might start throwing darts at everyone,” Ridyard smiles. “I’d like to play Greg Worthington - I’ve got my suspicions he’s played a bit and he knows what’s what and Bob Beswick is pretty good.”
So instead Ridyard and teammates have to make do with table tennis. The worst player? “Gregg McNally by far,” Ridyard says without a pause. “And Sam Hopkins isn’t much better.”
And the best? “Richard Beaumont reckons he’s the business but I’d say it’s toss-up between Sam Barlow and Cameron Pitman,” Ridyard reveals. “Sam and me are unbeatable at doubles but Cameron takes it really seriously. He’s even got his own bat.”
Ridyard can’t wait for the arrival of Leigh’s newest signing Fuifui Moimoi and see how he faces up to the challenge of darts and table tennis. “I reckon I’d fancy my chances,” he says. “But you never know- he could be the Tongan darts champion for all I know.”