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Monday, 24 April 2017 10:49

Bragging rights

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SATURDAY 22nd APRIL. Parc Afon Twrch, warm and sunny.
CWM WANDERERS 6 YSTRADGYNLAIS 0 (Neath & District League, Premier Division)
We have reached that time of year when every Saturday brings a difficult choice of several 'decisive' match options: cup finals, promotion deciders, title deciders, relegation deciders, all of these are on offer today. And, after due deliberation, I've decided Lower Cwmtwrch is the place to be.

I've been watching the west Wales title races closely, with both Team Swansea and Cwm Wanderers bidding for a Welsh League place, and both having to resist challenges from the reigning champions of Swansea and Neath Leagues respectively. The Neath part of the west Wales equation can be resolved today - Cwm need 3 points to clinch the title, guaranteeing at least a play-off for promotion (or automatic promotion if Team Swansea don't manage to win their league).

To add extra interest, Cwm entertain neighbours Ystradgynlais, who need the points in a fight against relegation. And, the clincher, I've realised during the week that Cwm are playing on a different ground to the one I visited a decade ago.

Getting to the top of the Swansea valley isn't as hard as it used to be: there's an hourly Traws Cambria bus from Neath that gets to Ystradgynlais in less than half an hour. Parc Afon Twrch in Lower Cwmtwrch is a twenty minute walk away, the nearest end of the long linear village (or is it two villages?). Upper Cwmtwrch is a mile or so further on up the valley of the cascading river Twrch, but it's not quite as I imagined - the road climbing gently rather than the vertiginous s-bends that the 'Upper' and 'Lower' prefixes brought to mind. It's a pleasant walk - worth the effort as Upper Cwmtwrch has the village's two main pubs - and peaceful too, contrasting with the industrial history of the village and the violent myth that inspired the river's name - Twrch is Welsh for wild boar, a creature supposedly hurled off a mountainside here by King Arthur.

Refreshed, I head back down the valley, detouring to review where Cwm's former Brynderi ground once was. There's no trace, the land redeveloped for a Welsh-medium school. The new ground, 100 yards away, is fully enclosed by mesh fencing, and boasts an Arena stand and a spacious clubhouse, with its walls adorned by honours boards and past photos of Wanderers' teams and grounds. All very impressive.

A big local crowd has turned out for the derby too - well over a hundred. Cwm, in blue, make a cautious start against very committed opponents who are not going to go down meekly. For a quarter of an hour, it's an even game, but the deadlock is broken in the 19th minute when Gareth Thomas converts a right-wing cross from close range. Just before half time he gets a more memorable second goal, chipping the defence after a series of blocked attempts.

The second half brings more goals, with sub Oliver Runford now taking over from Thomas as the star of the show. His 25-yard shot in the 58th minute kills any hopes of an Ystrad revival, and he floats in a fourth goal soon afterwards. The last ten minutes bring two more, as Ystrad begin to flag, Joe Edwards heading the fifth from a corner and Runford twisting and turning in the box to complete his hat-trick in the last minute. A comprehensive 6-0 win, local bragging rights secured as well as the title, but it's harsh on Ystradgynlais, who battled hard but just never had enough up front to trouble Cwm, who must now await denouement in the Swansea League title race to see whether a promotion play-off is needed.

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