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Wednesday, 12 April 2017 09:05

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SATURDAY 8th APRIL - Park Avenue, warm and sunny.
Having followed the FAW Trophy competition closely throughout the season, I always hoped to attend the final. When the final venue was announced as Aberystwyth, I was in two minds - Cardiff to Aber by public transport is rather tedious - but thankfully the FAW came to the rescue, and I've secured a lift with Head of Referees Ray Ellingham.

Football chat makes the road trip pass quickly and we're in Aberystwyth by 1pm. The ground is open and fans from the Swansea- and Wrexham-based finalists are already gathering, Chirk in red and Penlan in predominantly yellow colours. Programmes and refreshments are on sale and the Aber Town club shop is even open, although many groups of fans are heading off to the town-centre bars for the next hour.

Conditions are perfect for watching football - a warm and sunny afternoon, and no wind. I'm hoping the match lives up to the occasion. It's a hard fixture to assess, with clubs from such different leagues. Chirk have the experience of previous finals, three times winners and losing finalists a few seasons ago. Penlan are a newer club, but have been dominating Swansea Senior football in recent years. There have been no north/south encounters at all in this year's Trophy, and whilst Wrexham Area teams have again had a very good campaign, dominating the final rounds, Swansea clubs have a good record in the Trophy. Penlan, on their day, can be very impressive, especially if they can retain their discipline.

After pre-match formalities (presentations to dignitaries, anthem, brass band, team photos) the final is underway. Despite both sides being slightly tentative, early signs are promising, with attacks at both ends. Chirk force a couple of early corners, and from the first of these Matty Thomas sees a powerful header just miss the target. Referee Rob Jenkins takes a firm stand on the harder challenges - no doubt aware that this game has the potential to flare up if he doesn't. Penlan's Jamie James is the first of several players to see Jenkins's yellow card, in the 18th minute.

Although Chirk have had more of the ball in the opening spell, it's Penlan who score first, Luke Chappell given space to cut inside and curl the ball past Chirk keeper Bebbington. The fans in yellow erupt, briefly silencing the more numerous and vociferous red contingent on the stand side.

Chirk's efforts to get back on level terms come to nothing: the final ball goes astray, or the shot goes wide. Their fans are frustrated, but are telling each other to keep the faith, there's plenty of time. After half time, this is still true, but Penlan are looking quite comfortable defending their lead. A second goal would probably seal it, but Bebbington is alert to several good efforts on target.

Just as time is beginning to run out for Chirk, they get their equaliser: a period of pressure, Penl;an keeper Marcus Collins blocks well, but the rebound comes to Matty Thomas who scores. The game is, once again, finely balanced. In the closing quarter of an hour, despite signs of tiredness and cramp on both sides, the momentum seems to be with Chirk, but they can't get a winner and we're going to get another half hour of action.

After 90 hard minutes on a warm afternoon, extra time is a big test for the teams, but the pace doesn't slow as much as it might. The match is still too tight to call, for an error or a flash of brilliance could decide it either way. Thankfully, it's the latter: Chirk's Chris Bennion receives the ball in the inside-right position, takes one touch, and then sends a shot flashing past Collins. Chirk celebrate - but they've got another twenty minutes or so before the job is done.

In the second period of extra time, Penlan push forward to try and rescue the game, but Chirk look the more likely to score again. They hit the post and though the ball ends up in the net, it's disallowed for an offside in the follow-up. Eventually the whistle comes and the celebrations can start in earnest.
The post-match formalities must await the assembly of the FAW's travelling stage - this delay always seems unfair to both winners and losers after a hard game. When it's ready, Joe Roberts of Chirk gets the Man of the Match champagne and the three teams - official, losers and winners - go up to receive their mementoes.

It's been a good final, well balanced, good attacking football, plenty of commitment but nothing dirty or over-aggressive and well-controlled. A good atmosphere too, both sets of fans enjoying the big occasion. I'm glad I came, and grateful that the FAW got me to Aber and back.

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