Page last updated at 15:24 GMT, Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Hitting the bullseye at new Darts Academy

Darts Academy in Stockport
Paul McDonagh and students at the Darts Academy in Stockport

The UK's first professional Darts Academy has opened in Stockport, as BBC Radio 5 live's Judy Hobson reports.

Stockport isn't just a top place for darts.

In Tony O'Shea and Daryl Fitton, the town boasts not one, but two of the country's top darts players - which makes it double top.

But what really hits the mark is the UK's first professional Darts Academy at Stockport College, now teaching the next generation of darts masters.

Here, students can practise their game under the quiet tuition of former professional player Paul McDonagh.

"Same as Dave. Nice and steady again, come on Daniel, go for the 19s… unlucky".

Training

So what advice can he give his students?

"I just give them encouragement really," he says. "Getting their throw right, getting them to stand properly.

"They also have to learn to concentrate: if you notice, a lot of them are chatting away to each other while they are playing. There's time for chatting once you've thrown the darts."

The student common room is transformed into a darts arena three times a week.

I've learnt to relax, it's helped my maths, stance, grip - everything
Darts student Jack Byrne

Tables and chairs are piled in a corner to make way for nine dartboards, as a dozen young hopefuls step up to the oche.

Steve Mort is the manager of the Darts Academy.

"Last year, a number of students asked if we could start a Darts Academy", he says.

"We did our research and approached the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation) with it, and we're pleased they gave us their backing.

"Darts isn't a course by itself, but at the end of the year all the students will get a certificate saying they've attended the course and had professional training."

Skill

So there are no qualifications to be gained here, no "darts degree", as one national newspaper has suggested.

The players simply gain confidence and skill and hopefully the chance to have a real crack at turning professional.

Jack Byrne is a darts student. "I enjoy darts a lot and if I play at home my mum's moaning that it's banging on the walls," he says.

"So I come to college, do my normal studies, and then I come down here and have a game of darts for a couple of hours."

So has his game improved?

"Yes, definitely," says Jack. "I've learnt to relax, it's helped my maths, stance, grip - everything. I'm a more rounded darts player."

Spacehopper

I didn't know Tony O'Shea and Darryl Fitton came from Stockport. But then I don't know much about darts.

The last dart I threw I was aged six, aiming for my brother's spacehopper.

So what would Paul McDonagh say about my long-awaited return to the sport?

"Put your right foot forward and your left foot back, as firmly on the ground as possible. Just relax, bring the dart back and throw when you're comfortable. Aim for the red dot in the middle."

A student darts player
A student hones his dart-throwing techniques

So I throw. I didn't quite hit the red dot. I didn't quite hit the dartboard.

There's a sharp crack as the dart rips into the newly painted wall.

I think I'll leave the future of darts to these teenagers. And that's the point - in this room is the future of darts.

A few of the students are showing a real talent for the game.

David Robinson started playing in a pub team when he was 14. And he's already got a nickname - "One Eighty".

How far does he think he can go? "On stage with all the superstars," he says.

Dave 'One Eighty' Robinson - you heard the name here first.



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