Less than four years ago, Jonny Clayton was not even on the PDC circuit, but after enjoying an impressive rise to prominence, the man nicknamed ‘The Ferret’ is preparing to make his World Cup of Darts debut for Wales in Frankfurt.
Clayton will partner Premier League debutant Gerwyn Price in this year’s event and ironically, many of his career landmarks in the PDC have involved ‘The Iceman’.
Clayton marked his World Championship debut in 2017 with victory over Price in the first round, and he also defeated his compatriot in the final of last month’s Austrian Darts Open, to secure his maiden European Tour title and his biggest career victory to date.
This triumph confirmed the 43-year-old’s World Cup of Darts berth and although he has experience of representing his country in the BDO system, he admits this particular accolade gives him an immense source of pride.
“I can’t wait to be honest. It’s been a few weeks waiting now but the time is here so I can’t wait. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve done it once before in the World Cup for the BDO so to do it in the PDC system it’s massive up against the best players in the world. It’s great.”
However, while Clayton and Price have often been rivals on the oche, the pair are good friends away from the game and both have plenty in common being former Rugby League stars.
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Clayton was captain and scrum-half at Pontyberem RFC, while Price was a former Neath, Cross Keys and Glasgow Warriors hooker, and their close bond could potentially have the ‘knock-on’ effect they desire.
“I beat Gezzy in Austria and I am going to partner him in the World Cup; we seem to be bumping into each other all over the place.
“Both of our personalities are quite similar. We’re both in good form, so hopefully we can step forward. I think we’ll do okay. Obviously I played at the back being the smaller one, so I’ll be looking after Gezzy hopefully once again,” he quipped.
Clayton’s ‘Ferret’ nickname also originated from his Rugby days, but he has certainly grown in stature across darting circles over the last six months.
He enjoyed a sensational run to the final of November’s Players Championship Finals, his first televised final. He defeated world champion Rob Cross en route, before succumbing to Michael van Gerwen.
This secured the Welshman a spot in the world’s top 32 and since then he has not looked back. He clinched his maiden PDC title in the final Players Championship event of 2017, before going on to claim European Tour glory in Austria last month.
Wales’ World Cup Record
Wales have reached two World Cup Finals, back in 2010 and 2017. Only England (5) and Netherlands (4) have appeared in more World Cup of Darts finals.
Clayton only secured his PDC Tour-Card at Q-School in January 2015 and he admits he couldn’t have imagined enjoying such a meteoric rise.
“To be honest when I left the BDO system I just tried to get through Q-School and to get to where I am now, it’s just a dream come true really.”
The Pontyberem ace has become one of the most dangerous propositions on the PDC circuit and he underlined that by defeating Michael van Gerwen with a 107 average in a Pro Tour event last month.
When reflecting on his impressive rise, Clayton admits his run to a first televised final was a huge psychological obstacle to overcome, and he’s now reaping the rewards.
“That was a massive tournament for me. It was my first big tournament final and obviously your confidence grows massively and I think that was the turning point.”
Clayton will become the sixth different player to represent Wales in the PDC World Cup of Darts, as former Lakeside champion Mark Webster misses out for the first time since the tournament’s inception in 2010.
Webster has helped lead Wales to two World Cup finals, both last year and back in 2010. Clayton acknowledges he has big shoes to fill but is looking forward to playing an integral role in what’s proving to be a golden era for Welsh darts.
Price appeared in this year’s Premier League; Clayton continues to make considerable strides, Jamie Lewis reached the recent World Championship semi-finals and made his World Series debut last week, while Mark Webster remains a prominent figure on the PDC Pro Tour circuit.
“There is a lot of competition now in Wales. Obviously I’ve taken Mark Webster’s place this year. To me that’s a massive step because Mark’s a great player and hopefully I can carry on where he left off. I think we’ll do alright.”
Clayton’s impressive form in both Pro Tour events and major televised tournaments has seen him rise to a career high of 23rd on the PDC Order of Merit, but the phlegmatic Welshman is refusing to get carried away.
“Hopefully I can get into the top eight, but my next step now is to try and get into the top 16 and hopefully just keep climbing. I take each day as it comes and I don’t think too much about anything. I just take it as it comes.”
Nevertheless, he remains one of a handful of higher-ranked players to balance his darting career with a full-time job. Clayton works as a plasterer for Carmarthenshire County Council, but he’ll be looking to expose any cracks in his opponent’s games in Frankfurt.
Wales begin their campaign on Thursday night against the Thailand pairing of Thanawat Gaweenuntawong and Attapol Eupakaree, who will be bidding to secure their nation’s first victory in the history of this competition.
“First-round games are always hard. Take it as it is, and cross our fingers that we can get through. I think we’ll click off each other so I’m quite confident; quietly confident,” he claimed.
Clayton’s unassuming nature is evidenced once again as he discusses Wales’ prospects, but that is countered by a sense of cautious optimism, and an impressive showing at this year’s World Cup could provide the latest chapter in his developing darting story.
Darts is back on your Sky Sports screens this week with the World Cup of Darts, live from Frankfurt – four days of live coverage get underway from 6pm on Sky Sports Action on Thursday
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