It all started back in November, when Gerwyn Price and Jonny Clayton combined to guide Wales to their maiden World Cup of Darts title, yet few would have envisaged the dominance enjoyed by the Welshmen since that famous night in Salzburg – however on Tuesday night one man’s title dream will be over.
Price arrived in Blackpool as world champion and world No 1, while Clayton is one of the sport’s form players, having clinched Masters and Premier League titles in a blistering start to 2021.
‘The Iceman’ was already a proven winner prior to that World Cup triumph, although it has played an instrumental role in Clayton’s meteoric rise. Now the journey continues with the pair locking horns as major champions, for a place in the World Matchplay quarter-finals.
- Price sets up Clayton clash in Blackpool
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‘The Ferret’ wasn’t even in the Premier League picture prior to his Masters success, but now he boasts one of the sport’s biggest prizes, and he concedes that he’s largely indebted to Price for his emergence as a major champion.
“We got to the World Cup and to be fair to Gezzy [Price], he was brilliant. He carried me all the way; I thought I played well in the final, but thank god for Gezzy,” he told Sky Sports.
“His back must have been aching carrying me through those rounds, but we got over that line and I was a different person afterwards.
“My confidence is high. Before I was just Jonny Clayton who would give somebody a good game. I have proven to myself that I can do better than that, and I think I’ve got another step, so let’s see what happens.”
Clayton defeated World Grand Prix finalist Dirk van Duijvenbode to register his first ever Matchplay win at the fourth attempt, while Price eased past another Dutchman Jermaine Wattimena to avoid a fifth consecutive first-round Winter Gardens exit.
There are plenty of parallels between the pair – Price enjoyed a well-documented career in rugby prior to becoming a darting professional, while Clayton also captained his local side Pontyberem.
Ironically, many of The Ferret’s landmarks in the PDC are inextricably linked to ‘The Iceman’.
Even if you discount November’s World Cup, Clayton marked his World Championship bow with victory over Price in 2017, before defeating his compatriot to clinch his maiden European Tour title, also in Austria, in 2018.
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It is refreshing to see the camaraderie between the pair, and while neither man will give an inch when they lock horns on Tuesday, away from the board they remain great friends, who are thrilled to see each other thriving.
“I get on really well with Jonny, I love him to bits. He is a fantastic player and even more so, a great bloke,” Price told Sky Sports.
“If I am not winning tournaments, then he is probably the one that I want to win most, so I’m chuffed to bits for what he’s done.”
That view is reciprocated by Clayton, who added: “We are big mates. We always have banter. We phone each other, not every day, but it’s always banter and I find if you have got that team-mate, it helps.
“Whatever Gezzy does, if I go out early in a competition, I always wish him all the best and he does the same to me.”
Despite this, their approaches to this year’s Matchplay could not be more contrasting. The Winter Gardens showpiece has always presented an ideal opportunity for Price to take his wife and young daughters along for the ride, but not this time around.
“I’ve always taken my family away to Blackpool and it’s going to be a bit different this year, I’m going to be up there to play darts and it’s work only, no leisure for me this year,” he said.
“The Matchplay is the only event where my two daughters, my wife and my dad and my family comes, and it can take your mind away from the job you’ve got in hand and that’s why I’m doing things a bit different this year.
“The kids are off school from Friday so they could well come up there with me, but I just need to focus on what I’m doing…I just need to stop mixing professional life with my leisure life.”
However, having been deprived of the chance to lift the Premier League trophy in front of his family in Milton Keynes, Clayton is hoping they can share in his success on the seaside.
“My family are with me. Basically there are two tournaments of the year that we can all go together – this is one, and the World Championship is the other.
“I am proud as hell, I’m a family man. I was looking up there and I was thinking: ‘I can see my family there, I want to do this for them.
“I always want to do it for them, but it’s a proud moment when you look up and they are there cheering you on. It is fantastic.
“When I won that Premier League – my family weren’t there. I was gutted. I would have loved to have lifted that trophy and have a photo with the wife and kids, but it wasn’t to be.
“Hopefully I can pick this trophy up and that photo is going to happen on this stage. I would love it!”
It seems extraordinary that the pair are meeting as early as the second round, but that’s courtesy of Clayton’s current ranking, which most would agree does not provide an accurate reflection of his pedigree.
The 46-year-old remains 16th in the world after his three televised titles came in non-ranking events, yet he is undeterred, insisting it’s about prizes, not positions.
“I look at it in two different ways – Jonny Clayton could be world No 16, 32, world No 1. It is just a number next to my name.
“Nobody could ever take away from me that I am a Premier League champion. Nobody could ever take away from me that I am a Masters champion, World Cup champion.”
“We will have a good game. If I am not on my A-game then he can turn me over, but I think if I bring my A-game, I’ll win.”
Price excited ahead of Clayton clash…
‘The Ferret’ is an undisputed contender to scoop a third major title of 2021, but he’s up against a man on a mission in Price, who is targeting a first televised crown since his Alexandra Palace exploits in January.
“The first round is always tough, even on Pro Tours. Once I get through the first round, I think I am going to win the event, but the first one is always tough,” the world No 1 continued.
“With the crowd back, I thought they may give me a better reception than they did, but hopefully Tuesday is a little bit better.
“I smashed Jonny up 7-1 the last time I played him, which I think he will remember! We will have a good game. If I am not on my A-game then he can turn me over, but I think if I bring my A-game, I’ll win.”
Watch the World Matchplay from the iconic Winter Gardens all the way through until Sunday, July 25. Check out daily Darts news on skysports.com/darts, our app for mobile devices and our Twitter account @skysportsdarts
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