Over the past week, I managed to catch up with ‘Iron Man’ Kevin Burness following the Irishman’s qualification for the 2020 William Hill World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace.
It’s the second consecutive year that Burness has qualified for the World Championship. Of course twelve months ago, Burness’ route to Alexandra Palace was slightly different as the Newtownards-based star won the Tom Kirby Memorial trophy – securing his place at the World Championship.
On debut, Burness produced some solid performances, defeating Paul Nicholson on debut, before a defeat to two-time world champion Gary Anderson. This time, Burness’ qualification route came via the PDPA world championship qualifier in Wigan as three places were up for grabs.
Iron Man produced five stand-out displays en route to securing qualification. Averaging 96.84 over his five victories just highlights just how consistently solid Burness was over the course of the day in Wigan.
“I’m over the moon,” said Burness. “After a poor year on the pro-tour, I’m really happy to qualify for the World Championship. I changed my darts and my throw about five weeks ago and the results are really starting to show.
In terms of Burness’ performances over the course of the day in Wigan, Iron Man was satisfied with his level of play on a consistent level and insists that there’s more in the tank heading into Alexandra Palace.
“The night before the World Championship qualifier, I was practising so, so well,” said Burness. “I said to myself – I can do this tomorrow. From the very beginning of the event I felt so good and I was playing really well.
“I just had a strong feeling that I was going to qualify. I had to play some great players and friends along the way – my finishing was great.”
Burness got off to a strong start in Wigan as he opened up with fairly comfortable 6-3 win over Niels Zonneveld with an average of just over 98, but the Newtownards darts ace insists that his hard-fought 6-5 win over Reece Robinson was arguably his performance of the day and really instilled him with belief and added confidence.
Iron Man defied a 101 average from Robinson as he produced an average of just over 100 himself to edge past the Hull-based player.
“The match against Reece [Robinson] was just awesome,” added Burness. “It took some great finishing from myself to get over the line. From that moment there, it was most certainly the turning-point for me on a personal level.”
As Burness sealed qualification for the second consecutive year, the 54-year old admits that the experience gained at Alexandra Palace 12 months ago and another year on the PDC pro-tour has really helped him to raise his game and become more consistent in his play.
“I think that I’m a much better player now. With the experience that I’ve gained over the last 12 months, it’ll stand me. in good stead.”
On December 13, Burness will open up the 2020 William Hill World Darts Championship as he takes on ‘the Cobra’ Jelle Klaasen in the first match of the prestigious 96-player tournament. The winner will face the prospect of taking on the world no.1 and reigning world champion – Michael Van Gerwen later in the evening.
But, Burness admits that playing in the opening match of the tournament at Alexandra Palace doesn’t phase him in the slightest.
“Opening up the tournament doesn’t bother me in the slightest,” added Burness. “I’ll prepare for it as I would for any other match. However, I’ll be putting in more practise than I normally would.”
Burness concedes that 2019 on the pro-tour hasn’t been too kind to him, but admits that he’s keen to take all the positives from that experience into Alexandra Palace and 2020. Depending on what happens at the world championship, Burness may need to go back to qualifying school in January.
“This year’s been a difficult one. I’ve endured a lot of 6-5 defeats, but on a more positive note – I haven’t rolled over and given up, I’ve really had to battle hard. Obviously what happens in 2020 depends on what happens at Alexandra Palace.”
In terms of Irish darts and the sheer amount of top-level players coming out of Ireland, Burness admits that the rise in standard is producing more and more top-level Irish talent.
“There’s some great players coming out of Ireland, yes. There’s a lot more to come and darts is most definitely in a great place at the moment from an Irish perspective.”
Finally, Iron Man paid homage to his management MDA Promotions and admits that without their support and guidance, the rise in form and qualification for the world championship may not have been possible.
“They’re [MDA Promotions] a massive help to me and my game. Without their support and expertise, what I’m doing now wouldn’t be possible.”
Photography credit: Lawrence Lustig/PDC