ALAN TABERN is hoping to crown the greatest year of his career by making his mark on the oche at the World Darts Championships.
The 42-year-old from St Helens will head to Alexandra Palace in London later this week full of confidence after climbing to a career high ranking of ninth in the PDC Order of Merit.
Tabern, who is nicknamed ‘The Saint’, will take on former world champion Steve Beaton in the first round on Saturday as he starts his bid to clinch the winner’s cheque of £125,000.
The Sky cameras hold no fears for Tabern, who has reached the quarter-finals of the Las Vegas Desert Classic, World Matchplay, UK Open and European Championship this year.
He caused a major shock in Vegas by beating reigning champion Raymond van Barneveld, while in the World Matchplay he knocked out current world champion John Part.
Tabern also progressed to the semis of the Championship League of Darts and clinched three Players Championship titles.
"It’s been a fantastic year for me so far," Tabern said.
"I was ranked about 18th at the start of 2008 and my first goal was breaking into the top 16 to guarantee qualification for the TV events.
"Mentally, I’ve been a lot stronger. I’ve been able to focus on my own game and not worry about my opponent. If someone hits a 180 I don’t feel under any extra pressure any more.
"I’ve very proud of the three Pro Tour titles I’ve won this year as both Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld were in the field.
"I haven’t played as well in the TV competitions as I’ve done in the floor events. Four quarter-finals in one season says I’m getting there, but I still feel I’ve got something to prove.
"I’m really looking forward to the Worlds and I would love to get to a major final. But facing Steve is one of the toughest draws I could have got. He’s still a very good player and I’m expecting a really difficult game."
Tabern, who is a big St Helens rugby league and Liverpool FC fan, reached the quarter-finals of the Worlds in 2007 and was knocked out in the third round by Phil Taylor last year.
If everything goes to plan the left-hander will meet world number one and bookies’ favourite Taylor again in the last eight.
"I would love to take on Phil in the quarters," he said. "I could have beaten him last year and had finishes of 116 and 130 to knock him out but just missed it.
"There’s no doubt he has stepped up a level since then. I played some of my best darts against him in the Championship League of Darts and averaged 105 but he still beat me. When you think you’ve got him he takes out the big finishes.
"He’s the best ever and if he plays the way he can then nobody will get near him. It will take a superhuman effort from someone to beat Phil."
Tabern had been juggling his darts career with his job as a caretaker for St Helens Council.
But two months ago he decided to turn professional and is able to fully focus on his quest for glory.
"I wasn’t getting any support off the council and they basically asked me to pick between the job or darts," he said. "I resigned and it’s probably been a blessing in disguise.
"My wife Helen has got a job to ensure we can pay the mortgage because we can’t rely on the darts money. I’ve got a merchandise deal with Red Dragon, but I don’t have a big sponsor to let me do the circuit. I wouldn’t say I’m a full-time pro, I’d say I’m a house husband having a bash at making it.
"What’s happened to the sport in the last few years has been amazing and if I can stay where I am for a few years I’ll be able to make a decent living out of it."