A total of 64 teams will compete in the 2nd round of the JD Welsh Cup this weekend as the twelve clubs from the JD Cymru Premier, including current holders The New Saints, join those from the lower tiers of the domestic game that have progressed this far in the competition.
Penybont reached the final of the competition in 2021/22 but were defeated 3-2 by The New Saints at the Cardiff City Stadium, despite a late comeback after finding themselves three goals down. “It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but the whole week, the whole experience, it was great to be there and it was really positive even though we lost the game,” said manager Rhys Griffiths to FAW.cymru. “We did ourselves proud on the day and another five minutes we might have equalised. I would love to do it again.”
Penybont are currently fifth in the JD Cymru Premier, but their campaign started early as they competed in Europe for the first time. Qualifying for the UEFA Europa Conference League through finishing third in the table, the side were eliminated in extra-time against Andorran side Santa Coloma in the opening round. However, it represented another milestone in the journey for Penybont, and despite only gaining promotion in 2019, they have now established themselves as a leading club in the domestic top-flight.
The side reached the JD Welsh Cup semi-final last season but were again paired with The New Saints in a repeat of the previous years showpiece, and it was the eventual cup winners that claimed a 2-0 win. Now Penybont begin their latest JD Welsh Cup journey with a potentially difficult tie at Cwmbran Celtic of the JD Cymru South. The side claimed a convincing 4-1 win over Abertillery Bluebirds last weekend to move up to sixth place in the league table, and Griffiths will not be taking his opponents for granted on Saturday.
“When the draw was made I looked at it and thought this was probably the most difficult draw we could have had other than drawing another Cymru Premier club,” he added. “It’s not an easy place to go with the size and quality of the pitch. They’ve got some big lads, some experience, and they know their way about. Players will find that extra ten percent against us, and they will run us close, so it’s a difficult game for us. Our players won’t be turning up thinking that it’s going to be easy. They will be given all the information.
“Last season we had Gresford and Conwy away,” said Griffiths. “We had footage of them to show the players the environment they would be playing in, and yet still, somehow, your level can drop. It only takes a five percent drop, or for one or two players to drop their level, and then for one or two players from the opposition to raise themselves to a level they don’t normally play at, and all of a sudden you have an even field. It’s going to be really difficult, but obviously I feel like if we prepare properly, and we are at our best, we will win.”
Although JD Welsh Cup glory has so far eluded Griffiths as a manager, lifting the trophy as a player with Llanelli in 2010/11 remains a career highlight for one of the most prolific strikers in the history of the JD Cymru Premier. “The Welsh Cup was the one that came the hardest in my career really,” Griffiths explained. “I won the league, golden boots, but I thought the Welsh Cup was going to escape me.”
In fact, Griffiths scored twice and was sent off in the 2007/08 JD Welsh Cup Final as Llanelli were defeated 4-2 by Bangor City to prevent the club from completing the domestic treble. However, the side would avenge the loss three years later as Bangor City were beaten 4-1 at Parc-y-Scarlets. Griffiths again scored twice as his side claimed the trophy for the one and only time in their history.
“I had lost in semi-finals and lost in a final as well, but it was a wonderful day to win it when I did and the core of that team, players like Wyn Thomas, Chris Venables, Stuart Jones etc, are all still good friends. It’s a wonderful cup to win, it really is, and it means so much to the club members. As a player you’re desperate to win it, but you don’t realise when you win it how much it means to the club officials and volunteers, the people who make these clubs tick. You can’t put a price on that.”