No Ordinary Joe: Cullen to Follow Clayon’s Path?

With The Rockstar’s Masters triumph, and Premier League selection, here is our interview and feature (from Darts World Magazine 575) where we foreshadow the last few months:

Currently riding high on a rich vein of form, Joe Cullen is looking to emulate the achievements of a flock of recent players to have claimed a maiden television major – including good friend, Jonny Clayton. 

Already hungry to lift titles, seeing his pal fill his trophy cabinet in recent months has further motivated Cullen into ‘wanting a bit of what his mate has’. 

And it’s looking increasingly likely. Soaring to top spot on the pro-tour order of merit, the stars seem to be aligning nicely for the self-proclaimed Rockstar from Bradford.

As one of the fittest players on the professional circuit, the 31-year old former postman is more likely to be seen jogging around a soccer pitch than standing in the queue at Greggs.

Cullen replied: “I like to keep fit and play 5-a-side footy every Wednesday, sometimes twice a week. I also enjoy a bit of golf but not been on a course in almost a year now.”

“I’m in a great routine that pretty much revolves around sport”, he jokes. “In the morning, I hit the practice board at home. Then at around 1pm, I’ll sneak an hour of snooker in down at the local club before collecting the kids from school.

Tough life hey Joe! But admittedly, he is very much a proud family man. Partner Toni is currently being kept extremely busy, working alongside the wonderful NHS administering the vaccination roll-out. Together with their two children; Travis, 13 and Lucy, 8 it’s a happy home life at the Cullen’s.

The past year has been a decent one for the Bradford man. A change in manufacturer has seen a vast improvement in Cullen’s form resulting in a pole position on the PDC Pro-Tour Order of Merit.

“Since moving to Winmau almost a year ago, my game has really benefited from the move. I was with Unicorn for a long time and just felt a fresh set of eyes was needed to reach the next level.

“I told my management company that Winmau was my preference. I’d always liked their products and heard good things about the craftsman there, Lee Huxtable.

“So I travelled to their headquarters in Wales, and immediately Lee came up with new ideas. He made me a barrel there and then – I tried it, felt it needed tweaked and by the end of the day, Lee got it spot on. I couldn’t have been happier.

Now armed with his perfect weapon of choice, Cullen is eyeing those big majors with a renewed confidence and added belief. Few associated with the game of darts doubt the ability of the Yorkshireman but given his amount of talent, many felt he’d underachieved.

Agreeing, Cullen said: “Yes, that’s fair to say. But in my defence, when I began my darts career it took about five years before I was really committed. I rarely practiced and didn’t take it seriously enough. 

“Now I’m older and more mature. I’ve come to realise that the sport can change my life. Just look at my results since around 2016/17 and you will notice a big difference.

“I see the World Championships as the ideal opportunity to really climb the rankings, with the prize money on offer at the Ally Pally, a good run can put you straight into the top ten. My record to date there is dreadful. I’ve had some really tough draws but that’s no excuse.”

Speaking on criticism that he often ‘bottles’ matches, Cullen said: “If they were honest enough to admit it, every professional dart player has bottled a game at some point in their career. 

“When I lost in the recent World Championships fourth round to Michael Van Gerwen, it came down to a single leg – no tie break. I had the darts for the decider but after I kicked things off in the last leg, he replied with a 180! 

“The day after that defeat, my Dad said it was amongst the best five games he’d ever seen. It’s then I reminded him, that’s all very well but I still lost.

Coping with the change in the environment over the past year, Cullen is another player very much looking forward to performing in front of the fans again.

“Oh definitely. You can’t beat the atmosphere of a full arena, it makes all the difference. Once we are back to normal, we will see what everyone is made of”, he said menacingly.

“I’ve really missed the fans – even the ones who get a little over-excited at the walk-on”, laughs Cullen. “But I also love the banter between legs and sets. If a game is tight, it can relieve some of the tension. 

As the Ant & Dec of the PDC, Joe’s close friendship with fellow MODUS stable-mate, Jonny Clayton is no secret. So has the Welshman’s recent successes on the oche made him slightly envious?

“Of course!”, Cullen replied. “Mate or no mate, I want to be the one lifting trophies. Obviously I’m delighted for Jonny, he knows that. 

“If I’m knocked out of a tournament, I’d much rather see him go all the way than anyone else. We spoke on the phone just after he won the Premier League – he was so happy, I immediately knew how much it meant.

“I’m not that far behind him though. Jonny won the Masters at the start of the year which earned him a place in the Premier League – if Merv King had of won that final then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But what Jonny has done brilliantly is take his chances when they’ve come – so he fully deserves it all.

“Unfortunately, in the first round of the Masters, I ended up drawing the bloke who had just become World Champion, Gerwyn Price! Maybe in the past, I’d dwell upon things too much but I always have confidence and believe in my ability. On my day, I know I’m a match for anyone in the world.

“Naturally I want to win trophies but as long as the money keeps coming in, it takes the pressure off. For me, I’m confident it will happen when it happens. I just need to stay patient and remain focused.

Speaking on his own Premier League aspirations, Cullen added: “I certainly don’t think I’ve done enough to earn a spot yet. Back when they had challengers and contenders, if selected I doubt many would have argued.

“But looking at the lineup this year, every one of the lads was fully deserving of their place – even Wade who replaced Gezzy [Gerwyn Price], won the UK Open so he’s there on merit.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when he is at home you won’t find Cullen switching his television over to the darts. He doesn’t even like practicing with anyone!

Nodding, he said: “I’ve always preferred practicing alone. Devon Petersen lives nearby but if I’m playing badly, the last thing I want is him popping around and making me look even worse!”

“I can honestly say though, I’m not really a darts fan. To me, it just work. Not many chefs would like to get home from a tough shift in a hot kitchen, immediately start baking and stick on Ready Steady Cook!

Cullen adds: “And I certainly won’t watch replays of myself. But I did catch the Premier League final recently – and that was only because Jonny was in it.

“My missus Toni enjoys watching darts, which is slightly annoying! I can’t stop her putting it on the TV but when my son asks I say no!

If you like everything darts-related, then you probably saw Joe recently appear on a revamped episode of Bullseye, hosted by Alan Carr.

Reflecting on his game show debut, Cullen said: “ Initially, I assumed a guest spot – like in the original programme where the professional player would appear halfway through and throw for charity. Seemed like fun so I said yes.

“Then I discovered there was in fact three professionals paired with three different celebrities. They teamed me up with former England goalkeeper, David Seaman who hails from the nearby town of Rotherham, South Yorkshire.”

If you haven’t yet seen the show and don’t want the drama spoilt then stop reading now! 

Right, still here – good. Cullen and Seaman won – fending off the challenges from Wayne Mardle partnered with ex-Coronation Street star, Angela Griffin and the other team featuring Queen of the Palace, Fallon Sherrock alongside the enigmatic Chris Kamara.

Cullen adds: “Dave was great – he even messaged me the day the show was aired. Pretty decent player too but Angela Griffin throws a decent dart. She was showing me pictures of her setup at home – it’s even better than mine! 

“Every Friday, together with her husband, they play in an online league – so she takes her darts pretty seriously.

“Due to strict COVID-related regulations, we weren’t allowed a little practice. So the darts you saw on the programme are our first ones! Myself and Wayne were already absolutely bricking it – never felt as nervous in our lives!

“At the jackpot end game, I had to use a golden dart to hit the bullseye. As mine aren’t gold, they supplied one.

“I received a text from Matt Ward later that day confirming they were Daryl Gurney’s darts – yes indeed they were.”

It’s a bullseye!


Images: Darts World

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