Making history as the youngest team to ever feature in the PDC World Cup, Craig Galliano and Justin Hewitt are representing their country on a PDC stage for the very first time, having both represented Gibraltar at youth level for a number of years prior. A new look team, replacing the team of Dyson Parody and Anthony Lopez, as they look to avenge their country’s first round defeat to Japan back in 2019.
A tough task ahead of them, as they take on the team of Lithuania, with former WDF World No. 1 Darius Labanauskas teaming up with Mindaugas Barauskas, as they look to avenge their poor performance from last year, as they lost 5-1 to Australia in the first round, with a team average just below 80.
As well as this, they had the added pressure of being the first game in the tournament - something that seems typical of Loxley sponsored players, with Ryan Searle opening proceedings at the PDC World Grand Prix, exactly one month ago (to the day).
A scrappy first leg, with the pair exchanging tons yet they found themselves unable to break the Lithuanian throw, with Barauskas finding a 180 with his first throw of the match. Nerves evident from the Gibraltan pair, with a few loose darts thrown in, yet overall a steady start and a good sign from them of what to expect, with trebles being found with relative confidence.
Roles reversed, as the Gibraltans enjoyed a fantastic start to the second leg, with Justin Hewitt firing in a 180 of his own, allowing the pair to dominate the leg on throw, with Craig Galliano checking out 51 to level the match.
The next leg was dominated by the Lithuanians, as Darius Labanauskas fired in his first maximum of the match, before taking matters into his own hands on the finish, finding D9 with his last dart to finish 96, denying the Gibraltans a chance to break throw.
Close from Craig Galliano, wiring two darts to take the fourth leg, before a Barauskas mistake allows Gibraltar a second chance to level once again, with Hewitt finding D5 to keep the pair in the game. Yet another leg on the board, and it’s evident to see the confidence growing in the pair, with both players throwing with more conviction than in the past legs.
Strong scoring from the Lithuanians allowed them to coast home in the fifth leg, with another near-ton finish from Labanauskas allowing the pair to restore their one leg lead, and putting the Gibraltan duo under pressure to hold throw in the sixth leg.
This they did, with another fantastic finish from Craig Galliano, taking out 70 to deny Barauskas a chance at a 64 checkout, as they forced the game to go to a best of 3, still requiring a break of throw if they wish to progress in this year's tournament.
Yet another leg going with the grain, as Lithuania held their throw to put them just one leg away from a clash with either England or the Philippines. Strong ton-plus scoring from the Lithuanian pair denied a chance of a break for the Gibraltans, with Hewitt and Galliano well back on 194 as Barauskas hit the double to win the leg.
With the pressure truly on, the pair knew they needed to win the next leg, or their time at the PDC World Cup may be brought to an abrupt end. Scores in the high 90’s put the pair in a good position for the leg, with Labanauskas missing a dart at single 9 to allow Galliano a chance at 73 to force a last leg decider. It unfortunately wasn’t meant to be, as he wired two at double after finding the T19, with Barauskas punishing the mistake to send Lithuania through to the next round.
An impressive performance from the victors, as Lithuania averaged 84.66 to progress in the tournament for the first time. But take nothing away from a fantastic display from the young stars of Gibraltar. With a 50% double percentage, 17 scores of 100 or more, and a 75.43 team average, commentator Mark Webster was correct in stating that this could very well be the team to truly push the county to new heights in the world of darts - sometimes, to look to the future, you need to look to the present!
An invaluable experience nonetheless for the pair, who can head back home with their heads held high. The confidence gained from this will only set them in good stead for the future - next year, who knows? With time, experience will grow; this could very much be a seeded team in the future, with both players having the potential to have a promising career within the sport. I, for one, am already looking forward to next year, to see what these two go on to achieve next!
Author - Joe Reid