Whilst it wasn’t the gold medal in a PDC television event that Stephen Bunting desperately craves, he still departs Jena a proud man after a wonderful run to the German Darts Open final.
Eventually, it was Krzysztof Ratajski who claimed the title leaving the Liverpudlian once again wearing silver.
After sporting his new 18g darts in a televised event for the first time, all the signs point to a positive step up in weight which will hopefully soon bear fruit.
Kicking off the evening session on day one, and without finding top gear, Bunting edged past Mickey Mansell 6-4.
The Northern Irishman can probably feel a little aggrieved having ended the contest with the higher average. But Stephen saved his only maximum of the match until the very last leg to break the Clonroe Cyclone’s throw and claim a 6-4 win.
It was a similar story in round two as the former Lakeside Champion once again was beaten in the average stakes, this time by Joe Cullen. Yet after a nervy last leg decider, eventually prevailed.
There are times when you think your name is on the cup. And seeing the inconsolable Rockstar spurn eight match darts, this would have felt like one of those times.
Eventually, and highlighted by Joe’s unfortunate anguish on the outer ring, the only major difference between the pair was Stephen’s superior double percentage checkout rate. Still, you need that bit of luck at times in this game.
Into the last day of a European Tour event is always the initial goal and waking up Sunday morning in Jena, that is exactly the predicament Bunting found himself in.
German opposition in Germany is always a tough ask but Stephen clearly didn’t get that memo as he brushed the dangerous Martin Schindler aside with ease to romp home 6-1. It was possibly the St Helens residents best display of the weekend, banging in a 98.21 average and a magnificent master-class on the doubles, just shy of 50%.
The quarter-final clash with Andrew Gilding treated the Jena crowd to another absorbing nail-biter which once again went all the way down to the wire and a final leg shoot-out.
Goldfinger can wonder how he didn’t win this one as all the major result stats favoured the reigning UK Open Champion. All except the vital one – the scoreline.
For the third time in the tournament, Bunting was able to grab a win after recording the lower average. Even more signs perhaps that destiny loomed large.
With the winning line nearing closer, only the surprise package of the event in the shape of Wesley Plaisier stood between the 38-year old and a second European Tour final.
The Dutchman missed out on a tour card at the beginning of the year but on his day, a match for anyone. And so it proved once again.
Eventually though, and after another titanic tungsten tussle, it was Stephen who made it a hatrick of last leg wins for the weekend to earn what was a thoroughly deserving victory.
However, it wasn’t to be a fairytale ending as Krzysztof Ratajski added to his Gibraltar success a few years and thus denying Bunting a walk in the promised land.
After surrendering an early 4-0 deficit to the Polish Eagle in a race to eight, it was always going to be an uphill task. But the Bullet did fire back and should have narrowed the scoreline to 4-3.
But he didn’t. And the Pole, who has seemed to have rediscover his form of late, took control to claim an 8-3 win and European Tour title number two.
Speaking on what was a roller-coaster past few days, Stephen said: “To lose in a final is of course gut-wrenching but Krzysztof was the better player in that game.
“Naturally, and in hindsight, I am thrilled to go all the way to the end especially as it’s the first time using my new 18g darts on television.
“In practice, they’ve been flying beautifully for me. And if the airline hadn’t of misplaced my luggage last month, I’d have had a couple more weeks under my belt throwing with them.
“But look, I have to be happy with reaching another final. Just disappointed I didn’t start quicker and make more of a game of it. If you’d have offered me runner-up on the flight over to Germany, I would have snatched your hand off.
“I genuinely think that with these new darts, I’ve found that missing piece of the jigsaw. So now hopefully, I can look to pick up a trophy on the big stage very soon.”