The year in review 2023 – Domestic game

It has been another ground-breaking year for the domestic game headlined by new attendance records being set in the Genero Adran Leagues while The New Saints continue to assert their domestic domination in the JD Cymru Premier and Haverfordwest County pulled off an incredible result in Europe.

It has also been a significant year off the field with Her Game Too Cymru forging an important partnership with the Genero Adran Leagues and JD Cymru Leagues to promote equality across the domestic game. “Creating Her Game Too Cymru allows us to shine a spotlight on the remarkable work already being done to bolster the women’s game in Wales and women in football, whilst reaching a different audience,” explained Roopa Vyas, Director of Her Game Too.

Meanwhile, the FAW became a development member of the European Leagues Association in a move to protect and enhance our national competitions. “Joining the European Leagues is an exciting and important milestone in our journey of developing our domestic game,” said Nick Davies, FAW Senior Competitions Manager. “We are looking forward to seeing how this can translate to tangible benefit to all our National Leagues across the men’s and women’s game.”

JD Cymru Leagues

There was a familiar story in the JD Cymru Premier as The New Saints won the title with a 22-point margin over nearest-rivals Connah’s Quay Nomads, scoring 112 goals in the process. Scottish striker Declan McManus was once again a key contributor with 29 goals in just 25 games, and the Golden Boot winner was named Player of the Year following another impressive campaign with Craig Harrison’s side. However, Rhys Griffiths would claim the Manager of the Year award after guiding Penybont to Europe for the first time in their history.

Former Cymru international Steve Evans enjoyed a successful season with Colwyn Bay as they gained promotion as winners of the JD Cymru North while Barry Town United joined them in the top-flight for the 2023/24 season after lifting the JD Cymru South title under former manager Lee Kendall, with Kayne McLaggon scoring 34 goals in his 27 league games. Despite their success in Tier 2, both teams have found the challenge of competing in the JD Cymru Premier a much tougher prospect this season and head into 2024 looking to stay out of the bottom two places.

Veteran striker Chris Venables also marked a significant milestone in his JD Cymru Premier story this year as he became the all-time record appearance holder when he played his 537th league match for Penybont against Barry Town United in September, and scored a spectacular goal to win the match 1-0. There was also sad news to report in November as Mel Thomas, the original league statistician who contributed countless hours for many years to ensure accurate records were kept, passed away.

Genero Adran Leagues

Cardiff City celebrated an invincible campaign in 2022/23 to lift the Genero Adran Premier trophy without losing single league game. Ffion Price was a key player in the success for Iain Darbyshire’s side as she claimed the Player of the Year award, while Swansea City’s Stacey John-Davis scored 15 goals for the eventual runners-up to earn the Golden Boot for the second season in a row. Cardiff City remain favourites to retain the title this season, but a new rival has emerged following Wrexham‘s promotion from the Genero Adran North.

In fact, Wrexham set a new domestic attendance record on their way to the title as 9,511 fans watched their victory over Connah’s Quay Nomads at the Racecourse in March. Rebecca Pritchard then scored their only goal in the promotion play-off against Genero Adran South winners Briton Ferry Llansawel to earn promotion. With Cardiff City and Swansea City also playing more fixtures at the Cardiff City Stadium and Stadium respectively, there has been a marked increase in attendances across the women’s game throughout 2023.

Cup glory

The New Saints and Cardiff City completed league and cup doubles in the men’s and women’s game to round-off their respectively successful campaigns. Craig Harrison’s Saints claimed the JD Welsh Cup for the third season in succession with a resounding 6-0 win over Bala Town at Bangor, while Cardiff City retained the FAW Women’s Cup with a 4-0 victory over Briton Ferry Llansawel in Merthyr in April. Eliza Collie, Catherine Walsh, Ffion Price and substitute Rhianne Oakley were all on target in the victory.

Elsewhere, Bala Town claimed the Nathaniel MG Cup for the first time in their history in January, while Cardiff Met claimed a surprise 1-0 win over Cardiff City in the Genero Adran Trophy final. Trethomas Bluebirds celebrated their own cup success in April as goals from Charlie Loss and Tomas Rutherford defeated Denbigh Town 2-1 at Latham Park to win the Dragon Signs Amateur Trophy. TNS and Barry Town United lifted the FAW Youth Cup and FAW Girls’ Cup respectively, while Barry triumphed over Colwyn Bay in the first ever Welsh Blood Service League Cup final. 

The New Saints head into 2024 with the domestic treble very much a possibility. Harrison’s side progressed to the fifth round of the JD Welsh Cup with a 3-0 win over Carmarthen Town and scored nine without reply against Gresford Athletic in the Nathaniel MG Cup, while Cardiff City are in a similar situation as they sit at the top of the Genero Adran Premier and will compete in the final stages of the Bute Energy Welsh Cup and the Genero Adran Trophy in the new year.

European stage

Tony Pennock’s Haverfordwest County produced when it mattered on their return to European competition in 2023 despite facing difficult opposition in North Macedonian outfit Shkëndija in the UEFA Europa Conference League. A 1-0 defeat away from home made the task that much harder, but a late goal from Lee Jenkins in the second leg levelled the aggregate score and took the match to penalties at the Cardiff City Stadium. Goalkeeper Zac Jones then saved two spot kicks in the 3-2 win. However, their European journey would come to an end against B36 Tórshavn in the next round.

The New Saints were dealt a tough hand in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers as Swedish side BK Häcken ran out 5-1 aggregate winners, and their participation in the Europa Conference League would be equally as short as the domestic champions were eliminated by Swift Hesperange. Connah’s Quay Nomads and European debutants Penybont also exited at the first hurdle against KA of Iceland and Andorran side FC Santa Coloma respectively. Cardiff City would represent Wales in the UEFA Women’s Champions League in September, but finished bottom of their mini-tournament in Lithuania following defeats to FC Gintra and Shelbourne.

International honours

The Cymru C team played their annual international fixture against England C in Altrincham in March with manager Mark Jones selecting 20 players from the JD Cymru Leagues. England named a 16-man squad from the National League and were looking to avenge the 4-0 defeat at Caernarfon in 2022. Ryan De Havilland would score the only goal of the game as England claimed a 1-0 victory, their first against Cymru since the inaugural meeting in 2018.

Meanwhile, the domestic game was well represented on the international stage by the number of players from the Genero Adran Premier who were selected for the Cymru WU17 and WU19 squads. In the latter part of the year, Cardiff City, Barry Town United, Aberystwyth and Pontypridd United were amongst the domestic clubs providing players to the intermediate national teams, recognition which is testament to the strides forward that the women’s game has made this year.

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