“I’ve spoken to you more over the last few weeks than my wife,” Jonny Clayton joked as he spoke to Sky Sports Darts’ Josh Gorton. Yet it is testament to his upward trajectory that ‘The Ferret’ remains in a man in such demand.
Rob Cross’ meteoric rise from a budding amateur to world champion inside 12 months shocked the darting world to its foundations. Gerwyn Price’s ascension to world No 1 may not have been quite as expeditious, though it was still a fairy-tale story.
Clayton’s progress has been less extravagant, but mightily impressive nonetheless. He has consistently remained on the periphery of the world’s top 16 for the last three years, before exploding into life within the last six months.
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He lifted his first televised title in November – albeit alongside Price – as Wales defeated England’s pairing of Cross and Michael Smith to claim their maiden World Cup of Darts title.
The Welshman has not looked back since. Just months later he triumphed at the Masters – his first individual major crown – while producing performances on the Pro Tour that reaffirm his status as one of the sport’s protagonists.
He has transferred that form to the Premier League stage and with just three rounds of fixtures remaining ahead of Finals Night on Friday, the 46-year-old currently occupies a play-off place, having demolished Gary Anderson 8-1 on Night 13.
“When I got selected for the Premier League, it is a massive achievement for any dart player. To play well, that can only be a bonus,” Clayton told Sky Sports.
“We’re all fighting for that top four and you know the standard – it is the best players in the world. It is basically the 10 elite and we’re all chasing the top four so there is no easy game.”
Confidence is key for The Ferret
I have done the hard work, I’m up with the top guys so let them worry about me instead of me worrying about them.
Clayton says he is now part of the elite
Darts is a sport synonymous with late bloomers. Peter Wright and Glen Durrant lifted World Championship and Premier League titles just weeks before their 50th birthdays. Martin Adams also won his three BDO world titles having brought up his half-century.
Clayton will hope his career follows a similar path, but he admits that familiarity on the big stage has been instrumental in his recent evolution.
His first televised final came at the Players Championship Finals in 2017, and although he has regularly featured in the latter stages of major events, crossing the proverbial finishing line was the key to unlocking his burgeoning potential.
“When you join the PDC, you are a bit starstruck. You see these guys on TV and when you play against them you are nervous,” added the Welshman.
“Now I am there. I have done the hard work, I’m up with the top guys so let them worry about me instead of me worrying about them.”
That mindset was evident in Milton Keynes on Monday night, as Clayton defied a 104.48 average from Anderson to register a comprehensive 8-1 success, much to the delight of the returning fans at the Marshall Arena.
It was the latest in a line of sparkling displays produced in this year’s Premier League. Clayton has now registered seven ton-plus averages in 13 matches, while also landing a nine-darter against Jose De Sousa, who he incidentally faces on Tuesday night.
Clayton proudly flying the flag
“I was a bit nervous backstage but to get this lot back [the fans] and to perform well, it’s all I wanted. It was a great atmosphere,” he told Sky Sports’ Emma Paton, fresh from accounting for Anderson.
“The crowd were brilliant. There was a few Welsh flags there. I’m a proud Welshman with great support and I love it.”
‘The Ferret’ may be flying the flag for Wales in the absence of world champion and world No 1 Price, but he is also continuing his family’s proud darting tradition that goes back generations.
The World Championship is obviously the best tournament, but the Premier League – you get your face out there, people recognise you.
Clayton on the Premier League’s prestige
“I love the game. I always have. My Mum, my Dad and my Gran were big dart players. It has always been a big thing in my family and I think they’re quite proud of what I am doing,” continued the 46-year-old.
“Back then, it was Lakeside with the BDO, but it was a massive thing over Christmas. I loved it so to be a part of it and to be one of the better players in the world, it is a dream come true for myself. I am proud of what I am doing but I still treat it as a hobby.”
“I play the game and that is my job done”
There remains a sense of incredulity in some circles at Clayton’s nonchalant approach to the sport, but it’s a formula that is paying dividends.
The Welshman’s work commitments as a plasterer for Carmarthenshire County Council are well-documented. In fact, it is rare that he completes an interview without being quizzed on the subject.
“It [work] gives you something else to think about rather than darts, darts, darts all the time. When I used to play rugby, I used to enjoy turning up, playing the game and going home,” added the World Cup winner.
Clayton’s PL Darts ton-plus averages
“I used to enjoy the banter. I don’t like politics in sport. I play the game and that is my job done. Whether I win or lose, I have tried my best, I enjoy the game and that is my mindset. I don’t want to change that.”
That mindset is integral to Clayton’s irrefutable popularity among his darting peers. Whether it be fellow professionals, pundits or fans – the verdicts are unwaveringly positive.
Nevertheless, behind that amiable exterior lies a fierce competitor who relishes the heat of battle, and the reigning Masters champion harbours realistic ambitions of landing one of the sport’s biggest prizes this week.
“I think this is the second biggest tournament in the PDC. The World Championship is obviously the best tournament, but the Premier League – you get your face out there, people recognise you.
“You are a big name if you are in the Premier League, so to win that would be amazing. Hopefully on Friday night I will be lifting that trophy.”
The 2021 Premier League continues this week, with four more nights of action culminating with the Play-Offs on Friday, May 28. Watch all the action live on Sky Sports
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