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Tuesday, 03 April 2018 10:04

South Wales into Europe again Featured

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EASTER MONDAY 2nd APRIL. Latham Park, heavy rain.

Of all the FAW's national competitions, the Regions Cup seems to get the least attention. This is odd, as it carries the prize of a place in a UEFA competition. Run over two seasons, select teams of grassroots players from the six Welsh regions contest two groups (north and south) with the two group winners meeting in the final.

The current competition has been running since autumn 2016. Of the twelve scheduled fixtures, only eleven have been played - thankfully the postponed Gwent v West Wales game has no significance, as South Wales had already topped the group table. Will it ever be played now?

In the build-up to the Easter Monday final, publicity and coverage has been scarce: a nice piece on the North Wales Coast squad in the Daily Post is the sum total really. Search on the web and the fixture is virtually impossible to find (even on the FAW site!) though it's had a few mentions on Twitter. Even if Easter Monday had been looking like a fine spring day, the chances of a good turnout at Latham Park are slim to non-existent. As it is, dire warnings of snow, fog, heavy rain are enough to put off all but the most intrepid traveller....

But I'm not so easily deterred. Public transport options looked far from ideal, but I've discovered that there's room on the South Wales FA team bus. What's more, I'm welcome to join it. So, at 9 a.m. on a dark, damp Easter Monday I'm at the rendezvous point on the outskirts of Cardiff ready to take in my first FAW final of the season. There's an air of confidence about the South Wales squad, whose success over the last few years seems to have bred a culture of players wanting to be selected as part of the group.

As the coach heads over the Beacons there's evidence of overnight snow; north of Rhayader the landscape is blanketed in white, but the roads are clear (bank holiday day trippers put off by the weather) and we're in Newtown two-and-a-half hours before the 2pm kick off. Thankfully the warm clubhouse is just opening up. The bus carrying the North Wales party must have had a harder journey, for they arrive barely an hour before kick off, just in time to hand in their team-sheet and get changed. They've brought only 13 players, whereas the SWFA managers have named the full 18 permitted.

The pre-match formalities take place in torrential rain, with the hills to the south shrouded in snow and low cloud. A few spectators shelter in the various covered stands, but it seems not even many relatives of the two squads' players are here to watch, and even fewer neutrals and locals. Such a shame, for what is the national showcase game for grassroots football in Wales.

The opening minutes of the game live up to that billing: both sides playing open, attacking football, with none of the early caginess associated with cup finals. The impressive South Wales attack is soon causing problems and they're rewarded with a 12th-minute lead, Chris Colvin-Owens of Penydarren firing low through a crowded box. For the next half an hour, the South Wales defence is tested by frequent North Wales attacks, but their solidity shows why they've conceded only twice in six qualifying games.

Then, on the break, South Wales double their lead: Colvin-Owens wins a tussle for possession on the right and floats a diagonal ball towards Penydarren team-mate Asa Lloyd. He gets the better of defender Darren Evans and steers the ball past keeper Josh Roberts from close range. The North Wales bench are aggrieved, alleging an infringement in the build-up, but UEFA referee Rob Jenkins is having none of it.

Regions resized

That second goal just before half-time has changed the game. The NWCFA side go in search of a quick goal to give them hope, but it's Josh Roberts' goal at the other end that is coming under more pressure. Owens hits a post and Roberts twice leaps acrobatically to divert goal-bound shots, but the score remains 2-0. The longer the half goes on, the more daunting the task for the NWCFA's team, and they start to tire visibly in the closing stages. By this stage there is little doubt that it will be the South Wales region that hosts visiting amateur squads from Greece, Sweden and Macedonia in June.

After the final whistle, the presentations take place on the balcony of Latham Park's chalet-style control room, the winners celebrate with the obligatory champagne and the committee men can discuss venues for June without fear of tempting fate. It's a predictably high-spirited South Wales party that sets off for the journey back to Cardiff and the valleys an hour or so later.

Read 3257 times Last modified on Tuesday, 03 April 2018 10:08

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