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Sunday, 16 October 2016 08:35

North v South in the West

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SATURDAY 15th OCTOBER - Phoenix Park, showery.
Every season I say I should get down to west Wales more often, but it's a resolution I often fail to keep. The West Wales Cup would be the perfect competition to use for visits west - but it is always scheduled to clash with the Welsh Cup, and the latter usually takes precedence. Few west Wales clubs ever enter national cups, but this year regular FAW Trophy entrants Hakin have been joined by a couple of others, including west Wales treble winners Goodwick. When Goodwick and Hakin reached the third round, and were drawn to meet at Phoenix Park, it was clearly time to visit the north Pembrokeshire coast.

Funnily enough, it's easy to get to Goodwick for an afternoon kick off - there's a direct train from Cardiff to Fishguard taking just over two hours and arriving at 1.15. The problem is that it's not so easy to travel back. Despite re-opening Fishguard & Goodwick station in 2012, to enable trains to serve the coastal villages as well as the ferry port, the rail authorities have left it very infrequently served (the only train back is after 7pm). Surely a simple, regular shuttle to Clarbeston Road would generate better use of the line? So I figure out a convoluted bus/train route home after the game, complete with the tightest of connections...

The journey west is straightforward. To start with, the train is busy and noisy - my initial assumption that the groups of men with copious supplies of beer are heading for the boat to Ireland. But they all get off at Llanelli - must be Sale Sharks rugby fans then. For the scenic ride up to Carmarthen, into Pembrokeshire and across to the north coast, the train has only a handful of passengers. As we approach Goodwick the autumn sunshine is giving way to spots of rain.

There's a fine elevated view over Phoenix Park on the right as the train approaches Fishguard & Goodwick - is it just me, or do others get a thrill from a glimpse of the ground as you draw near? I can still recall my first glimpse of Ton Pentre from the train. From the station, it's a few minutes' walk round to Phoenix Park, which sits at sea level, the foot of the steep hillside of Goodwick village, and separated from the bay by just the main road and a car park. A modern clubhouse building, with balcony and generous overhanging roof, now sits at the north end of the pitch. The older covered stand is still in place on the far side, and the well-maintained pitch is fully railed on all sides. For the Pembrokeshire League, this is an exceptional venue of which Goodwick are rightly proud.

And so to the match: regular readers of this blog might recall that I saw a memorable Pembrokeshire Senior Cup final between these fierce rivals last April. Well, the rivalry is still there, but there have been changes in the last six months. All-conquering sides are so often broken up, and in Goodwick's case the raider was Haverfordwest County, pursuing an all-local recruitment policy and creaming off the best local talent to play in the Welsh League. Hakin and Merlin's Bridge players went the same way, but Goodwick were always going to be prime targets. Six or seven of the treble-winning squad have gone. A look at the Pembrokeshire League table, with Goodwick below half-way, suggests that the Viking raiders from Hakin may start as favourites here today.

However, it's Goodwick, in their familiar red and black, who make the better start. Several early attacks stretch the Hakin defence, while the visitors struggle to find any fluency. The other notable feature of the opening spell is the number of fouls - some of them pretty reckless challenges, I must say. The lone Llanelli referee is a busy man.
Half way through the first 45 minutes, and the disjointed game gets the goal it badly needs. It comes from a period of Goodwick pressure, a throw from the left, flicked on and headed in at the far post by Sean Seymour-Davies. A nice set-piece move to score from, but Hakin will feel it's down to poor marking.

As the first half draws to a close, Hakin make a concerted effort to find an equaliser. A few good half-chances come and go, as does a penalty shout when the ball strikes the hand of a home defender. But Goodwick lead 1-0 at the break.

Much of the second half action is played at the far end, in front of the bright blue roof of Hancock's garage. For a while, it seems most likely - almost inevitable - that the pressure will bring a Hakin equaliser, but the home defence stands firm, bodies blocking everything on target. As the forecast rain arrives with under half an hour left to play, we reach that point when the trailing side start to push further up, and the game opens out a little. Goodwick are now able to enjoy the odd breakaway and it's from one of these that the next goal comes: a break down the right, and Jonny Horgan races clear to fire low past keeper Manson.

Hakin need a quick response, and when it doesn't come, the final quarter of an hour of play becomes academic - Goodwick continuing to contain a Hakin side which hasn't fired on all cylinders today. Goodwick might have had a third goal, when another run by Horgan ends with a trip in the box, but nothing is given, and it makes no difference - Goodwick are in the hat for Round 4.

Rather than set out to walk in the rain to Fishguard, to catch a bus that may or may not deliver me to Haverfordwest in time for my train, I'm lucky to be offered a lift to the station. This means I can enjoy a little time in the company of the very friendly home club, in their fine clubhouse bar, before the journey home. The match may not have reached the heights of that cup final in April, but the day out in west Wales has been every bit as enjoyable. Note (not for the first time): I must do this more often.

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