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Monday, 01 May 2017 11:10

Bala end TNS monopoly

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SUNDAY 30th APRIL. Bangor University Stadium, Nantporth, dry and mild.
BALA TOWN 2 THE NEW SAINTS 1 (JD Welsh Cup final)
After the hors-d'oevre of the Huws Gray Cup yesterday, I move on to the main course: the Welsh Cup final. Enough has been said already about the hugely inconvenient venue for the final - although everyone I speak to pre-match has more to say about it.

For me, it's meant an overnight stay and a journey west on the first train available. Many other neutrals won't have been able to go to such lengths. And, based on the expected storyline, you could ask why they should - for who can really envisage anything other than TNS swatting the Lakesiders' challenge to record their third consecutive Welsh treble? Even the Bala faithful are not oozing confidence - "if it was anyone else..." Indeed, having failed to beat the Saints in 29 previous encounters, the omens aren't good. They can only hope that today the jinx will be broken. They aren't short of support, the travelling contingent swelled by locals and neutrals keen to see someone (anyone) other than TNS lift some silverware.

The preliminaries are quite a show for the live TV audience (as well as those of us here in person). Flags, the cup on its plinth, child mascots, ceremonial arch, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (sung live), VIP presentations (Chris Coleman among them), handshakes, team photos... but this show is soon over and the players are probably relieved to get on with the real business.

Monday, 01 May 2017 11:03

Canaries end on a high

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CAERNARFON TOWN 3 FLINT TOWN UNITED 0 (Huws Gray Cup final)
A very early start, travelling north for a weekend of cup finals. The decision to hold the Welsh Cup final in Bangor on a Sunday means travelling on Saturday anyway, and the Huws Gray Cup final at Conwy fits nicely into the plan.

Train times mean I get to Conwy with several hours to spare - no hardship in a lovely castle town by the sea on a dry, if slightly chilly day. But by 1.30, sightseeing is done and I'm out at the Morfa Ground to the west of the town, along with the early arrivals from Flint and Caernarfon for the Huws Gray Alliance's showpiece final. As a former Welsh Premier ground, the Morfa is well-appointed, although it's a shame the large seated stand behind the town end goal is cordoned off, meaning spectators are confined mainly to the railway side, with its terracing and stand, and the flat standing area at the clubhouse end. But with an attendance in the low hundreds - and many of them kids not really watching the game anyway - it doesn't matter all that much.

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.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017 09:05

Triple A

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SATURDAY 8th APRIL - Park Avenue, warm and sunny.
CHIRK AAA 2 PENLAN CLUB 1 (after extra time) (FAW TROPHY FINAL)
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.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017 09:01

Reds & Greens

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WEDNESDAY 5th APRIL. Cardiff Arms Park - sunny.
THE WELSH VARSITY GAMES:
Women: Cardiff University 1 Swansea University 1
Men: Cardiff University 0 Swansea University 1

I had seen a reference to the Welsh Varsity football games a couple of weeks ago, and stored the information away at the back of my mind, without any definite plans to attend. I'd also mentioned it to a few people and noted their reactions - best described as 'extreme interest'. Opportunities to watch football on the Arms Park - a bastion of rugby union - don't come along too often, and the fixtures have piqued the interest of groundhoppers.

As it happens I'd seen both of Ton Pentre's InterToto Cup games on the old grass surface here, but that was twenty years ago and the ground has changed, with the building of the Millennium Stadium along the south side, attached to the Arms Park stand, and the more recent laying of a 3G pitch. So I'm easily persuaded to revisit.

I had never really registered how big an event the Welsh Varsity is. I can only assume I've never happened to be in Cardiff city centre on match-day, because you can't really miss the abundance of students. Throughout our approach through Sophia Gardens, the red of Cardiff and green of Swansea are everywhere, the noise from inside the various sporting venues indicating there are huge crowds out of sight too.

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