DARTS legend Raymond van Barneveld is hoping big crowds will bring out the best in him during his latest season of Premier League Darts, which starts tonight (Thursday) in Dublin.

The 50-year-old five-time world champion visited Somerset on Monday - fresh from making the Unibet Masters final the previous evening - to mark a new sponsorship with Triton Tools in Yeovil.

CLASH: County Gazette sports reporter Paul Martin takes on Raymond van Barneveld at Triton Tools in Yeovil.

Van Barneveld, who lost out to compatriot and world number one Michael van Gerwen in Milton Keynes on Sunday, was nonetheless content after reaching his first televised final in three years.

He said: “The year couldn’t have started much better. A win would have been perfect, but it was fantastic to reach the final.

“I was leading 4-1 and 8-5 and suddenly Mike started to fire with five successive legs. 

“Fair play to Michael – we all know what it’s like to play him and it’s not easy, he’s phenomenal.”

Barney’s focus now switches to the Unibet Premier League, which is entering its 14th year.

The Dutchman has played in all bar one of those campaigns, winning the event in 2014, but has his work cut out if he is to see off the challenge of ever-improving contenders.

Rob Cross stunned onlookers with his victory in the PDC World Championships earlier this month, adding his name to the elite list of players who will battle it out for the Premier League Crown.

“It looks like the standard is going up all the time," van Barneveld said.

“We all thought Michael would win the Worlds but he missed six doubles to win in his semi-final and then Rob won the final by storm. 

“I don’t think Phil [Taylor] has ever had a beating like that (7-2) in sets – maybe a new Phil Taylor is born. He’s fantastic and we’ll be hearing a lot more about him.”

After starting the year in good form, van Barneveld is understandably confident that he can challenge for major honours in 2018.

“I like to play the majors on stage compared to floor tournaments – I’m a big stage player," he said.

“I believe I can win a tournament and I’ve proved it is still possible. 

“The trouble is, every week you meet the same players and this week I’m in form but maybe next week they will be the form guys. 

“To beat them every single time is hard. There’s only a few players who can do that – Michael [van Gerwen], Gary [Anderson], Peter [Wright] - but I still believe I can do it as long as I practice hard enough.”

The growing appeal of darts on the continent is evident from this year’s schedule, as the Premier League visits Holland and, for the first time, Germany.

“I’m very curious ahead of that one and I’m really looking forward to it - it’s already sold out," van Barneveld said.

“You cannot compare this to any other tournament as the Premier League is the big, major thing.

“The best tournament to win is the World Championship but in Leeds there are 13,000 people as opposed to 3,000 at the Worlds. It’s louder, everyone is dressed up and yelling – it’s massive, it’s fantastic.”

Watch the full interview below: