Over the weekend, writes Jason Brindley, The New Saints Academy have been in the nation’s capital city Cardiff, representing the north – and the football club – in the FAW Academy Cup National Futsal Finals.
Our U-14s and U-16s both qualified after the winter Academy programme, which saw us face-off against all the other northern Academies at GAP Futsal, Deeside Leisure Centre. Also travelling down south from the northern finals were Connah’s Quay Nomads and Llandudno, in the U-14s and U-16s categories respectively.
We headed down on Saturday afternoon, following the U-16s training session at Park Hall Stadium. The players trained in the morning and ate together prior to leaving. We wanted to make sure preparation was right and also that players had the professional standards that we aim to achieve with all aspects at TNS, so it was great to travel down on the official team bus, especially due to the distance we had to cover.
Timings were spot-on and we arrived in Cardiff, checked into our hotel then went out to get some food. I keep saying to the players that preparation will give you more in the game. Eat well and that could be an extra 1%, sleep well and that’s another 1%. Combine that over the 8 players selected and that’s 16% more through good preparation.
I’m a massive believer in being a 1%er through extra detail, that little bit extra could be the difference, if it is then it goes in our favour. After eating we made our way back to the hotel to watch our first team against Dumbarton in the Irn-Bru Cup semi-final.
Sunday morning soon arrived and it was time to depart for the House of Sport near Cardiff City Stadium, after fuelling our bodies with a good healthy breakfast. First up were our U-14s, facing-off against Port Talbot. TNS started the game strongly and raced into a 2-0 lead. Unfortunately though, due to a couple of errors and uncertainty with the rules which were different to what we have played up north, Talbot equalised shortly before the end of the 20 minute encounter. They proved to be more clinical in extra-time, and despite TNS having the better chances it was their opposition who took theirs and they ran out winners.
Our U-16s shortly followed and faced-off against Barry Town in the semi-final. We started very strongly but were unable to find the net in a first-half in which they created a lot of good chances but were frustrated through a lack of killer edge and some good goalkeeping. At the other end, Barry offered a threat on the counter-attack, with Rob Johnson pulling off a good save to keep it level at the break.
My words to the boys at half-time was to keep doing what we were doing, that the goal would come and to not panic, and even if they were to go in front our quality would show. In the second-half we turned it up a level and soon got that decisive first goal. That was shortly followed by the second and we put the game to bed to run out comfortable winners and turn our focus on the final.
Our U-14s played against Barry themselves in the third/fourth place play-off game, and both teams played with more freedom as the pressure was off. Both sides created opportunities and scored some really good goals as the game was end-to-end. It was a good advert for Academy Futsal. The game finished 3-3 after the 20 minute mark and 4-4 following 10 minutes of extra-time. The game had to be decided through penalties, with Barry ending victorious.
To complete the day, and the weekend as far as the Futsal was concerned, our U-16s were in the final against Pontardawe Town. Pontardawe came back from being 2-0 down against Llandudno in their semi-final to win 4-2, so we knew they were going to be a strong team that wouldn’t give up.
That certainly proved the case, as the game started with a ferocious tempo. Pontardawe wouldn’t let us out, pressing us really high and working very hard as a team; I was very impressed. They were also very direct from their keeper, forcing us to drop into our half then pressing to keep us in there.
The first goal settled our nerves and we went into the break 2-0 up. I reminded the players that Pontardawe had been in this positon in their last game and they will believe they can get back into it, that they wouldn’t stop pushing us. We needed to match their work rate and intensity and then our quality would shine through.
That was certainly the case with the third goal. Two first-time passes cut the opposition open before a third first-time pass across the goal allowed a simple tap-in. It was an unbelievable goal. We were equally as great at the back, with Rob pulling off a quality save, followed by Louis Bradford diving into the goal to block off the line.
Pontardawe did pull one back but we finished the game off with a fourth to put the game to bed and run out deserved national champions. Huge credit to our opponents though, who played with great intensity and worked very hard; I was extremely impressed.
I’m proud of the way both sets of TNS players conducted themselves over the course of the weekend. Our U-14s were very unfortunate; they will learn from this and I know they will be stronger through the experience. Kieran has done a great job with the boys and they are a strong group.
I’m a believer that you learn more about yourself and your players through defeat; you analysise things more. You should equally in victory, of course, but I know you do more through defeat, as you question if you could have done more. They will be better because of this.
As for the U-16s, I’m fortunate enough as they are my main group and I have the joy of working with them on a weekly basis. I have already seen them come on leaps and bounds since I started working with them last summer. They have improved technically and tactically but also now they are starting to share my hunger.
They know you can have quality and be good at something but if you don’t work hard with that then its worthless, it won’t get you anywhere. The boys have been incredible over the course of the Futsal programme and over the last few months in general. That includes all the players, even those not selected this weekend due to the small format and game time, which was a very difficult decision to make.
We have a few stand-out players in the group that I feel will go on to do to well, but they know they need to maintain that hunger and always seek to be better and improve constantly. I feel the future is looking really good for our Academy and players’ development.
Contact Jason Brindley: firstname.lastname@example.org