Hundreds of players from across the world will be descending on Wigan’s Robin Park Tennis Centre this week for the PDC’s Qualifying School, a gruelling four-day event with the prize of a tour card on the PDC circuit up for grabs.
Among those who will be vying for a tour card when Q-School gets underway on Wednesday will be Colin Osborne.
Back in 2009 Osborne was flying high in the top 16 of the PDC Order of Merit, and after reaching the final of the UK Open then went on to beat Phil Taylor to win the Championship League Darts.
Fast forward to the start of 2016 and Ozzy has lost his tour card. A first round exit to Brendan Dolan in the PDC World Championship two years ago was the last time he has been seen on our television screens, and since then the 40-year-old endured difficult 2014 and 2015 seasons on the circuit.
The Middlesbrough-born thrower took home less than £2,000 from the PDC tour in the last two years, and as a result will now be fighting for his place back on the circuit this week in Wigan.
“It’s my first time having to go there and I don’t know what to expect if I’m honest,” Osborne said. “Based on the amount of entries they’re going to be long days, so there’s going to be a lot of waiting about.
“It’s just about occupying yourself, keeping yourself busy and not being sat around getting too lethargic. I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work so I’ll be going there upbeat and fully prepared.”
Along with former world finalist Peter Manley, Osborne will be one of the most recognised players at this year’s Q-School, with action getting underway each day at 12pm and concluding at around 7pm. It will be a slog for any player who makes it through to the last four on each day, which is the stage when tour cards are handed out.
Osborne is positive about his chances of gaining his place back on the tour this week, and is looking at Q-School as the perfect opportunity to get his career back on track.
“This can kick-start it back off again,” he said. “I was up there doing what I was doing, but in the last couple of years I’ve not been getting the results I’ve wanted.
“It’s just spiralled like that. Over the last six to eight months I’ve been putting in a lot of work, and the support from my family, friends, Winmau, JLC Cars, New Generation as well as all the close people around me, has given me the belief to keep going.”
“I’ve seen both sides of the coin and it has opened my eyes”
Ozzy’s slide down the rankings has been a mystery to darts fans, with his run to the UK Open final back in 2009 seeing him dismantle Raymond van Barneveld 9-4 in the last 16, and then Jamie Caven 10-3 and Kevin Painter 10-7 to reach his first televised final.
“If I could put my finger on it I’d tell you,” Osborne admitted. “It’s probably a lack of confidence. I don’t know whether I’d of handled anything differently from what I’ve done previously, but it’s just a mystery what has happened.
“From performing so well to then not producing the goods on the day. It’s like a snowball effect.
“When you’re winning games, everything takes care of itself and you carry that momentum forward, but once you start getting a few bad results and things go against you, it goes the opposite way.
“I can’t put my finger on one thing apart from confidence. Being in the game we’re in and the business we’re in, winning breeds confidence. And the proof is in the pudding, over the last two years I’ve not won enough games to build on that confidence.”
Having turned 40 last summer, Ozzy is still young in darts terms and he has ambitions to continue playing well into his 50s.
“I see myself even younger than that within my mind and my body,” he said. “I’m a young 40, and that’s no disrespect to anyone else who is 40.
“Some days I feel 21 and other days I feel like I’m 61, but within the darting world I’m still relatively young.
“Playing this game at the highest level I still feel I’ve got a good 15 years plus, but I’ve got to knuckle down if I want to do that.
“With the game we do play it’s more mental than anything else.
“We’re not running marathons or playing 90 minutes of football. It’s physically demanding because the mental side of it drains you. You have to have an intense focus at all times.
“But I still feel very young. I’ve always kept myself in shape and looked after myself, so when I do reach back up to where I was and kick on, I still feel I’ve got a good 15 years left in me to play.”
Midway through last year Osborne took a break from the PDC tour and went back to work outside of darts to make sure money was coming in.
“I had a bit of a break earlier in the year because I was so low on confidence,” he explained. “I hated the game and I just wanted to be away from darts.
“I’ve got a wife and two kids and obviously the money wasn’t coming in through the darts, so I had to go back to work.
“Going back to work was a great thing psychologically for my mind, because it got me away from the darts and I then started enjoying it again, and I wanted to play.
“I had a three to four month break where I didn’t even pick my darts up, but the support from my family and friends and people around me gave me the encouragement and confidence to pick my darts up and go again.
“You certainly know who your true friends are. A lot of things change and from my perspective I’ve seen both sides of it.
“Being up there and having all the plaudits and then being on the other side where everything has been going against you. It has certainly opened my eyes.”
Osborne now begins the final preparations for what could well be the biggest week of his career, playing for one of the tour cards available at this week’s Q-School.
Four players will win an automatic tour card on each day of the four days, with those being awarded to the players who reach the semi-finals.
Additional tour cards will then be handed out based on the final Q-School Order of Merit.