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Sunday, 10 April 2016 08:33

Pembrokeshire Showpiece doesn't Disappoint

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SATURDAY 9th APRIL. The Bridge Meadow - chilly, but dry and sunny
GOODWICK UNITED 2 HAKIN UNITED 1 (Pembrokeshire Senior Cup final)

Hop on a train going east from Cardiff and it will take a couple of hours to get to London: you're in another world, faster, busier, more connected. Travel west instead, and it will take longer than that two hours to get to Pembrokeshire. But we sometimes underestimate how far, and how different again, the far west of Wales actually is, in culture, outlook, and - crucially - connectedness, or rather lack of it.

Pembrokeshire's geography isolates it, which can be both good and bad in many walks of life. As this is a football blog, that's the only area to discuss here, and geography (physical and social) shapes Pembrokeshire football more than any other county, though south Ceredigion shares more than a few similarities. Most notably, Pembrokeshire football almost a self-contained world: few clubs ever dip their toes in national competitions, few players can stomach the travelling and sacrifices required to play further up the Welsh or English pyramid systems, so as a result there's a thriving county league with competitions that are not overshadowed in any way. There's a sense of recognition and support for local clubs in the wider community that you don't get in the cities, the valleys or even much of mid and north Wales; and the local press - print and online - gives coverage that clubs in more populous areas can only dream of. For the season's showpiece, the Senior Cup final, they go to town - multi page spreads, previews, predictions and pen-pictures.  [article continues, click on 'Read More' if not visible]

So, whenever I can, I head west on this particular April Saturday for the final, and when the county's top two sides reached this year's final, I had to come this year. Goodwick United, the cup holders, are bidding for the big local treble - league, senior cup and West Wales FA cup. Hakin United, reigning league champions, haven't quite given up hope of catching Goodwick in the league, so there's still a possible double for the Vikings.

So, with the county's top two sides involved, north county v south county, and high stakes, the Bridge Meadow is packed with over 1,500 spectators, and full of anticipation as kick off approaches. It's a big occasion that always attracts a big crowd. There are Pembs League blazers in abundance, and the local referees all turn out too, running their own 'golden goal' sweepstake. On my last visit (2013), one set of supporters' sported rosettes and hats, and not in an ironic way, and although there are plenty of club-branded tops in evidence today, it's all more conventional.

The early action is fast and furious as the teams try to settle into the game. Although there are former Welsh Premier players on both sides, used to the big stage, the importance of the occasion today and the big crowd must still affect the nerves. Goodwick, in red, have just about the better of the opening spell, with blonde striker Rhys Dalling a handful for the Vikings' defenders. And, when they give him just a little too much time and space after 21 minutes, they pay the price, as he lashes in a low 20-yard shot that flashes past keeper James Manson and wheels away to celebrate (above). 

Goodwick have the upper hand now and could add to the lead in the minutes that follow, but Hakin come back at them. The lead only last seven minutes, as Hakin striker Nick Woodrow is given a through-ball to chase and seizes the opportunity, giving James Gwilt no chance with a rising shot that ripples the net at the clubhouse end.
The temperature of the games is rising now, early nerves overcome and both sides having shown what they can do. Unfortunately, things boil over in the 38th minute, when Hakin's Ewan Findlay commits a foul inside his own half, then raises his hands to push the protesting victim, leaving referee Angus Scourfield with no real choice but to wave the red card.

Even with Goodwick holding a one man advantage, the second half brings end-to-end action and the match is finely balanced. Goodwick's strikers still look dangerous, but in defence they live dangerously on a few occasions, Gwilt's goal under siege in a couple of scrambles, and saved by the frame of the goal. Goodwick are denied what looks to me like a penalty, but in the 67th minute they regain the lead with another spectacular goal: Johnny Horgan cuts in from the right wing and strikes a shot from an acute angle high into the far corner of Manson's goal.

Goodwick now have to defend their lead against increasingly urgent Hakin pressure. There are a few more scrambles, and a succession of corners, but during the final minutes Hakin seem to be tiring, and struggle to prevent Goodwick from running the clock down in the corners and down the touch-lines. The whistle goes, celebrations start, and they're then interrupted for the presentations - medals for the two teams and officials, man of the match trophy to Rhys Dalling, a sponsor's trophy to winning manager Nigel Delaney (brother of Wales cap Mark), and the cup itself to Goodwick captain Wayne O'Sullivan.

The big occasion out west has again delivered a fine afternoon, a great day out, well worth the journey to the remote, western end of Wales.

Read 4295 times Last modified on Sunday, 10 April 2016 08:43

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