BRADFORD darts ace Joe Cullen admits he is “still gutted now” about his devastating 4-3 defeat in the last-16 of the PDC World Darts Championship to Luke Humphries.

Humphries went on to win his maiden world title just five days later, beating teenage sensation Luke Littler 7-4 in the final at Alexandra Palace on Wednesday night.

Cullen knows it could have been him in Humphries’ position, another reason to be heartbroken about losing what was arguably the match of the tournament last Saturday.

The Wyke native told the T&A: “It was disappointing to lose in the last-16 again, and I’m still gutted about it now.

“It looks like one of those things where it might have been fate for Luke though, and once he’d got over the line against me, he was going to win the tournament.

“Sometimes, to win those big tournaments, you need a bit of luck.”

Cullen lost a very similar thriller to Michael Van Gerwen at the Worlds three years ago, a 4-3 last-16 defeat that is still talked about in darting circles today.

Asked about whether defeats and missed chances like back then and against Humphries last Saturday are something he dwells on, the Bradfordian said: “I wouldn’t say it’s something that lingers with you.

“If you do dwell on those kind of moments, you’ll soon get found out when you next play a competitive match.

“That defeat to Luke will naturally hurt for a while, it’d be strange if it didn’t but I believe if I keep putting myself in positions like that, my luck will turn.

“I’d be more worried if I wasn’t even putting myself in with a chance against top players like Luke.”

To Humphries the glory, to Cullen the ‘if only’ then.

The Wyke star would have probably been the bookies favourite to beat Dave Chisnall, Scott Williams and Littler in the remaining three matches, which was the path Humphries had on the way to winning the title.

And Cullen admitted: “I’ve played enough matches at the Worlds now to know what it’s like there.

“I’ve turned up and not felt right in the past, when in all honesty, I was just happy enough to win one or two games and collect the money I’d earned for those matches.

“But I felt I could win the whole thing this year, especially after how well I held it together after I had a mid-match wobble against Ryan Searle in the last-32.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Joe Cullen embraces Ryan Searle after the pair's gripping last-32 clash at this year's Worlds.Joe Cullen embraces Ryan Searle after the pair's gripping last-32 clash at this year's Worlds. (Image: PA.)

“I thought I held it together well against Luke too, even if that 10th (penultimate) leg in the final set was a bit crazy.

“Obviously I’d had two darts at D18 to win the match in leg four of that deciding set, but I didn’t snatch at either of them, I threw them well, but the first one was right on the wire, and the second just missed after catching the flight of the dart that had gone before it.

“It was still a bitter pill to swallow at the time though, and I’m getting sick of being in these amazing games and coming out on the wrong side of them.”

Cullen rarely holds back in interviews, and spoke with rawness about how his mother’s illness and death affected his darts back in 2021.

Humphries also spoke candidly about his past struggles with depression in his post-final interview on Sky Sports, which would have resonated with many of the millions watching on TV.

Cullen reflected: “We don’t talk about those kind of things enough, especially in sport and especially as men, whether that be you, me or Luke.

“He probably wouldn’t have drawn attention to it if he hadn’t been asked about it by the interviewer, but after he did, he probably felt so much better for saying it out loud.

“You often find that, in any sport, players who talk about that kind of thing tend to get loads of positive feedback.”

The positivity was off the charts when it came to Humphries’ opponent in the final, with 16-year-old Littler’s run to the final on his Worlds debut a story that captured the imagination of millions of people around the world.

The teenager has become a media sensation and a darting superstar in just a few weeks, but experienced former World Champion Gary Anderson has spoken publicly about the need to give Littler time and space to focus on the sport he loves.

Giving his own take on darts’ new wonderkid, having already talked about him as someone to keep an eye on in 2022, Cullen said: “I think it’s a bit of both, in terms of hyping Luke up but also keeping a level of control over that.

“This has never happened in darts, with Fallon (Sherrock) when she broke through the closest thing to it.

“The numbers tuning in to Luke’s games towards the end of the tournament were huge, and it’s no exaggeration to say the world’s taken notice of him.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Luke Littler throwing during Wednesday's final, where, had he won, he would have becoming the youngest world champion by a whole eight years.Luke Littler throwing during Wednesday's final, where, had he won, he would have becoming the youngest world champion by a whole eight years. (Image: PA.)

“He’s got a Premier League place for this year off the back of one good run, so it’s maybe not a deserved spot in that regard, but the PDC were right to put him in the line-up.

“People want to watch him play darts and the league will get greater exposure because of Luke Littler.

“Do I think it’s the right thing for him to be involved at this age? Maybe not in the long run, but now it’s down to his management to make sure they look after him.”