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'She hopes it encourages young girls to get into the game' - world-class Dublin teen the focus of new film

‘Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches’ maps the meteoric rise of Katie Sheldon as she makes waves on the darts scene.

Dublin teenager Katie Sheldon is the main subject of a new documentary, Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches.
Dublin teenager Katie Sheldon is the main subject of a new documentary, Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches.
Image: Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches.

“HE DOESN’T WANT to play you, because you’re a girl”

“Really?”

“Yeah…”

“I hate that excuse.”

Just 15 at the time, Dubliner Katie Sheldon makes light of what she’s just heard from her Ireland team-mate and goes on to win the game — and put on her best performance of the 2019 Junior Darts Corporation [JDC] World Cup in Gibraltar.

It’s one of many brilliant scenes in Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches, a new Irish short film which maps the rise of Sheldon, defying gender stereotypes and turning heads in the highly-competitive world of youth darts. One which captures the story in a nutshell.

Just after the exchange with her team-mate, the Tallaght teenager pops up on the screen.

“If someone was to say, ‘Ah, I’ve to play a girl’ or, ‘There’s a girl in a men’s event,’ it would annoy you because you’re just as good, if not better, than half of the lads,” she declares, a steely determination in her eye.

“If they want to moan, they can step up and play, and then see how it turns out.”

It’s moments like these that lead to Sheldon stealing the hearts of the viewers.

Her silverware-laden sitting room, her endless list of achievements and accolades, and her winning mentality back up claims that she’s “the next big women’s player” and “Ireland’s best, possibly the world’s best,” but it’s her golden personality that shines through most.

Chatty, bubbly and witty, she is an absolute character.

“People who don’t know her, they’re in for a treat,” as is remarked in the documentary at one point.

That, they most certainly are.

******************** 

Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches grips you right from the beginning. Right from when Sheldon explains the meaning behind the title — the distance between the player and the board, for those of us who aren’t exactly darts experts.

We immediately get a sense of just how much the sport means to Sheldon — who started playing at the age of nine-and-a-half and practiced from hours on end after a board arrived to the house — and all those involved.

The misconceptions around the game are endless, and listed out early on.

“What the junior side of darts is trying to do is change people’s perceptions,” director Peter O’Brien tells The42.

“We asked all the kids what they thought people think of darts and they said, ‘People think it’s a pub game,’ ‘People think it’s large men drinking pints,’ and stuff like that. They want to change that perception. They’re doing that together.”

As we learn throughout.

Sheldon and her Irish team of Keane Barry, Sean Cummins and Killian Heffernan soon take centre stage on the road to Gibraltar, where they’re backed to go all the way having been beaten by the Netherlands in the final the year before. 

“With the Junior Darts World Cup coming up, it was perfect,” O’Brien continues. “We followed them to that and it was all set up for them to win.

“Everyone said they were going to win, anyone who we talked to. They didn’t win, but it was interesting with all their own personal stories, their friendship, the whole group together, and what they took away from it themselves.”

It certainly was a shock for the documentary team — who were all so invested in their efforts — and everyone else involved when they made an early exit at the hands of the reigning champions, but the documentary all worked out nicely.

We got to know Sheldon even better as she bounced back from adversity, leaning on those around her and highlighting that it’s not all about winning.

The friendships gained mean much more than the accolades won, that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. That message leads to a real feel-good ending.

Screenshot 2021-02-17 at 16.32.03 Sheldon and the Irish team at the World Cup in Gibraltar. Source: Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches.

Since then, Sheldon — now 17 — has become national singles champion, All-Ireland champion, world masters champion and she’s been signed by Target Darts.

And nothing’s impossible going forward, she assures, as the journey continues.

“When Katie first started, everyone thought of her as a little girl,” as her father, Steven, notes.

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“What’s so amazing today is men, women, boys and girls, they treat her like she’s a darts player. In 10 years time, I have a real good feeling that Katie could be world champion, ripping the place up.” 

******************** 

Two significant TV moments along the journey stand out for O’Brien.

The first was the night it all began, an evening of watching Champions League football with friends planned in The Clock on Thomas Street in Dublin’s city centre. “It came about in a strange way but probably the way that all good ideas come about, it started in the pub,” O’Brien explains.

Those best-laid plans were altered — and unbeknownst to him at the time, became more important ones — when every the TV in the pub turned off.

While O’Brien, his friends and other football fans suspected a power cut, the picture soon returned with a live feed of their in-house darts board. Competition ensued between The Clock team and their visiting opponents.

“A night of real community spirit unfolded, this hidden scene that I had never seen before,” O’Brien enthuses.

“I had known darts from the TV and stuff like that but I had never seen it a local level. That sparked my interest because it seemed like it was just this whole world that I didn’t even know about.

“I dug a little deeper into darts in Ireland and found the junior darts scene. What interested me was some of the best kids in the JDC, this worldwide thing, were from Ireland.”

Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches - Katie throwing Sheldon's class as a player shines through throughout the film. Source: Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches.

The other TV moment came on the final day of filming with Sheldon, as the rollercoaster ride of following herself, Barry, Cummins and Heffernan to the World Cup wrapped up.

After shooting a few last pieces in Sheldon’s local hall, they headed for lunch. In the middle of it all, Leo Varadkar popped up on the screen and announced the first Covid-19 lockdown in Ireland.

Following the original shock, there was an overwhelming sense of gratitude amongst the team that they had all the necessary material in the bag.

Working remotely through the editing process was a little more difficult, O’Brien concedes, but it may all have been a blessing in disguise.

“It gave us more time to think about it because there wasn’t as much going on work-wise with other shoots in lockdown. It definitely gave us the chance to think about the story more, and craft it much more.” 

******************** 

Superbly crafted, it was. “It was a joy to make,” O’Brien nods, his enjoyment and enthusiasm in the project shining through with each and every word he utters.

The reaction so far, too, has been incredible, the documentary premiering at the Cork International Film Festival and receiving a Special Mention for Best Documentary Short, with the likewise online Dublin Film Festival next up from 3-14 March.

“We’re absolutely delighted. The Cork Film Festival was an amazing way to start it. When you make something, you don’t know it’s going to be perceived in the world. When you get some kind of recognition like that, it’s nice and it puts you in good stead going forward.

“It’s great now to have a story from Dublin being shown at the biggest film festival in Dublin. Then onwards and upwards with it. Hopefully we’ll get some more traction and it’ll be going around the world, that’s the plan.” 

It’s happily gone around Sheldon’s family anyway, a private online screening arranged for them when it was all finished. 

Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches - Katie on Hill Sheldon is certainly one to watch in the future. Source: Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches.

“She really liked it, and her Dad is delighted,” O’Brien beams. “They were really happy with how we told the story. 

“I think she was especially happy that we showed the friendship side and how that’s the most important thing for her. She was saying that she hopes that it encourages young girls to get into the game, she hopes she can do that for people.”

Which is hugely important in the age of the 20×20 campaign and the ever-growing push to get — and keep — young girls involved in sport.

Sheldon’s story highlights the pathway that’s there in this minority, and largely male-dominated, game, and that’s the principal of Seven Feet Nine and a Quarter Inches.

“Katie, she’s showing that girls can play as well as the boys, if not better in most cases,” O’Brien concludes. “That’s super important to see.

“It’s a sport that shouldn’t really have any divisions, I know it doesn’t when it gets to JDC level but you don’t see as many women at that level so hopefully Katie’s story can spark young girls in Ireland and across the world to take up darts and start playing.”

***

Tickets for screenings of the Motherland-presented documentary at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival are available here, with another trailer here.

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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