BRADFORD darts star Joe Cullen begins his World Matchplay journey on Sunday, where he will be taking on good friend Chris Dobey in the first round.

The Wyke man pulled out of a tournament last week for personal reasons, and is hoping that will mean his mind is fresh for this huge event in Blackpool.

Cullen said: “The Matchplay is probably the second biggest tournament on the calendar, behind the Worlds, and the tournaments come thick and fast after this one until the end of the year, so you need a good start here.

“I’ve genuinely never heard a player say a bad word about the Winter Gardens, it’s an amazing venue and I’ve been guilty of looking around in awe when it’s not been my throw during games.

“They’ve kept a lot of the old stuff there in Blackpool, modernised it a bit too, and it’s the best venue by far on the circuit.”

It is a tournament that hasn’t always gone too well for Cullen though, and on World Matchplays past and present, he said: “My first few appearances I was maybe finding my feet on TV.

“But I got to the quarters in 2018, and last year I only lost to the winner, Dimitri Van den Bergh. It was fine margins, because I had the darts and should have gone 9-6 up in an first-to-11 match.”

He added: “I’m facing Chris Dobey on Sunday, and we’re good friends away from the darts.

“He only FaceTimed me last Sunday because he’d gone to Wembley for the Euros final.

“We speak a lot, but friends or not, that gets put to one side for an hour during our game.”

A potential date with world number two Peter Wright looms next Wednesday if Cullen gets through, but the Wyke star warned: “I’m not thinking so much about Peter, because you have to take it one game at a time.

“You can get found out looking too far ahead into the draw, and that’s happened to Peter in the past.

“He has a tough draw against Danny Noppert anyway.”

Cullen pulled out of a minor tournament last week, telling his Twitter followers that “you can’t play if your head is elsewhere”.

Speaking openly about his decision, he said: “I had a few personal things going on and was going to pull out the day before.

“But I thought I’d give the Wednesday a go, as I’d been looking forward to it as a distraction.

“I played my first game and just realised I didn’t care if I won or lost.

“For me it’s about attitude. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve got to win at everything, whether that be tiddlywinks or raindrops racing to the bottom of a window.

“So I told the tournament director I was pulling out as soon as I could.

“It was about putting me and my family first, and ultimately there’s a lot more to life than darts.

“If I had to miss Blackpool, then I would, but I’m hoping my head has cleared up now. I just figured it was best to try and miss the minor tournaments if I’m struggling.”