Joe Cullen claimed his first European Tour title with a sensational victory over Michael van Gerwen last month and ‘The Rockstar’ told Sky Sports that he believes he is now capable of challenging for major honours on a consistent basis.
The World Grand Prix gets under way at the Citywest Hotel on Sunday and although Cullen has never progressed beyond the second round on the Emerald Isle, he heads to Dublin with renewed confidence.
The Bradford star has been lauded as a potential major winner and he demonstrated his credentials at last month’s European Darts Matchplay, defeating Glen Durrant, James Wade and Van Gerwen on one blockbuster night in Mannheim.
“Obviously to beat Michael in a final – it’s difficult enough to beat Michael at any point. To beat him in a final does make it that extra bit special,” Cullen told Sky Sports.
“If I’m honest I spoke with Michael van Gerwen about it afterwards. I said to him: ‘You must feel like this every week.’ He looked at me a bit bemused and I was like: ‘I knew that nobody could beat me.’
“If I’m in the practice room and I say that ‘There is no way Michael van Gerwen can beat me’, 100 per cent of the practice room would laugh me out of there. I just knew that no one could beat me.
“It was a really surreal feeling and one that I’ve never felt before, even when I won the two Pro Tour titles. The challenge now is to get back to that feeling on a more regular basis.”
Prior to his stunning display on German soil it had been an underwhelming 2019 for Cullen, who suffered opening-round exits at the UK Open and World Matchplay.
His solitary televised win came at the expense of Rob Cross in the season-opening Masters, although he admits he has now proven to himself that he is capable of scooping big stage titles.
“Winning the European Tour last month confirms what you already know. I knew I was good enough to win one but if you’re not winning any it’s alright saying you know you’re good enough.
“I’ve proved over a longer format that I can mix it with the best and there’s no reason why I can’t go on to win a major.”
‘The Rockstar’ has only featured in a solitary major semi-final, where he surrendered a commanding lead against Simon Whitlock at last year’s European Championship.
Cullen has also reached the last eight in each of the World Matchplay, UK Open, Masters and World Series Finals, but he now believes he is fully equipped to challenge for the sport’s biggest honours.
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“I’m definitely a stage player. I think I went through three stages. The first stage I was really good on the floor and I got some good results.
“The year after I was really good on the stage and got some good results but not as good on the floor and I think it’s just a case of trying to mix the two now.
“The European Championship last year – I got to the semi-finals and should have got to the final. I missed a dart to get there but it should have been more comfortable than that, you shouldn’t throw a 10-7 lead away in a race to 11.”
Cullen’s immediate focus switches to Dublin which admittedly has not been a happy hunting ground for him, with his previous three appearances garnering just two victories.
“I think I’ve got to the last 16 on a couple of occasions but until you get to the quarter-finals you don’t really feel part of the tournament and I think a lot of the players would agree,” he admitted.
“It’s still a bit new to me – especially with the short format in the first round. It can be over as quickly as six legs. I think the later you get within the tournament, the more you’ll be able to judge it.”
The double-start format certainly separate the men from the boys and Wayne Mardle has consistently referenced the importance of having a clear plan of attack if you’re unable to pin your preferred starting double.
Many players alter their practice routines to compensate for the double-start aspect, although Cullen made the surprising admission that doubles do not feature in his practice regime.
“I think I’m one of the few that doesn’t actually practice doubles at all,” he said. “I’m a believer that if you can hit trebles you can hit doubles. My practice regime is totally about throwing at trebles.
“If you put three on the top wire of the treble 20 no problem. If you consistently keep putting three on the top wire of double top in practice it can become an issue and it may become a mental thing.