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Sunday, 03 April 2016 13:31

Going to the Dogs

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SATURDAY 2nd APRIL: Fairfield Lane, sunny and mild
CARDIFF AIRPORT 4 HIRWAUN SPORTS 0 (South Wales FA Intermediate Cup semi-final)
Another Saturday morning of anxiously peering out at the rain and monitoring Twitter feeds for news of postponements. Mid-morning brings bad news from numerous south Wales grounds, twelve hours of steady rain rendering them unplayable again, though the afternoon forecast remains positive. During this flurry of postponements I've been pessimistic about my chosen game, but the reliable South Wales FA don't announce any problems with their two semi-finals, so it seems I'm in luck. Even so, I set off early, with plans B and C ready in case things go wrong.

I've chosen the Cardiff Airport v Hirwaun Sports semi-final for the principal reason that it's taking place on a ground I haven't visited before. I only found out a month or two ago that Rhydyfelin AFC had moved away from their Upper Boat venue to a re-furbished ground half a mile along the road. The project might have been mentioned in the local press in RCT, but no wider than that, and the change doesn't seem to have registered with other sources (e.g. new season directories and the groundhopper grapevine). In fact it was only passing the ground by chance in February that brought it to my notice. A visit to a Rhydyfelin home game might have been an option - but I've noticed there are none of those scheduled in the Alliance League.  [article continues - click Read More if necessary]

The ground in Fairfield Lane, Hawthorn, lies across the side road from Hawthorn Leisure Centre and has a varied history. From the 1930s to 1963 it was a greyhound race-track, and indeed locally it's still known as the "Dog Track". The races relocated briefly to Taff's Well in the sixties, and the Dog Track became a rugby ground, but eventually fell into disuse and dereliction, until the football club embarked on the process of bringing it back to life three years ago. With the aid of grant and business funding from multiple sources, they've created a far better facility here than they had previously, with a smart clubhouse set back from the pitch. The playing surface, despite the overnight rain, turns out to be in remarkably good condition. While I'm exploring the impressive new set-up, a home club official confirms what I suspected about their Alliance League team - they've tendered their resignation after player problems. But all is not doom and gloom - "they're only one of our teams" he points out. The club is bigger than that and will carry on in junior and girls' competitions, and as far as Saturday men's football is concerned, they'll rebuild in the local district league.

The opposing sides in this 'coast v valleys' semi-final are doing well in their respective district leagues. Cardiff Airport, the reigning Vale of Glamorgan League champions, are again among the leaders there, while Hirwaun Sports are chasing the leading pair in the Aberdare Valley League. Hirwaun make the better start, with most play in their opponents' half during the first 15 minutes, but several corners and long-throws don't bring an opening goal. As the half progresses, play becomes more even, and the blue shirted Airport side start to threaten. Their spell of pressure does bring a breakthrough: in the 32nd minute, Sports concede a penalty for a trip inside the area, and Jermaine Martin steers the ball just inside the post to give the Vale side a half-time lead.

The second half opens with the Airport still on top. They miss a couple of clear chances to double the lead, and it isn't until the 60th minute that they manage that, Martin finding himself unmarked to direct a cushioned header over the line. And within four minutes, the tie is effectively over, as two more goals make it 4-0 to the Airport, the final now out of Hirwaun's reach. There's nearly half an hour left, and though Hirwaun keep at their task, it's really a question of the clock running down towards the inevitable. In the end, a comfortable and deserved victory for the Vale team, who discover they will meet Rhondda opposition in the final on May 4th, as news comes through that Trebanog have won the other semi-final, at nearby Taff's Well, on penalties.

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