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[Featured image: Mike Plunkett]

If you can’t play for your boyhood club then the next best thing is to manage it, and that’s the honour which has been bestowed upon Cefn Druids’ Jayson Starkey for Phase Two as he looks to lead to the Ancients out of the bottom two of the JD Cymru Premier.

It was confirmed this week that there would be no relegation from Wales’ top flight for the 2020/21 season, but for Starkey finishing 10th or higher is a matter of personal pride that all at the club should strive for with a handful of games left to play. We caught up with him this week to find out more.

“It’s very exciting to have this opportunity as the interim manager to lead the team and put my own beliefs and principles in place.” Starkey said. “We don’t want to be in the bottom two – no threat of relegation makes no difference to me, we need to get out of the bottom two.

“We can’t affect what the other teams do so we focus on ourselves and that started on Saturday against Haverfordwest, where I thought we were excellent and deserving of the three points, but last night showed our consistency still isn’t there, which has been the story of our season.

“Having games Tuesday-Saturday back-to-back it is fantastic for teams that are winning games as you build up those habits, but it’s the same both ways and losing can become a habit so we need to kick that and start picking up points. Losing to Flint wasn’t down to tactics, they just had so much more heart, desire and commitment, and those are the areas we’ve got to address.”

“I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities he gave me.”

Having worked as an Assistant Manager for a number of years at The Rock, Starkey has undoubtedly learnt a lot from those he has worked under, as he pinpointed particular lessons learnt from Huw Griffiths, Stuart Gelling and Bruno Lopes.

“Every manager has their own set of skills as an individual, and Huw (Griffiths) will always be my mentor and one of closest friends on and off the pitch. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities he gave me and for allowing me to learn so much from him. His man-management skills are second-to-none and he can back it up on the field with his coaching ability.

“Working with Stuart Gelling for a short period of time was also very beneficial for me, seeing how he wasn’t afraid to take training sessions right back to the fundamentals to make sure the players were doing the basics right, ensuring quality was there first before adding speed and intensity.

“Bruno Lopes is one of the best coaches I’ve ever worked with – his level of detail was fantastic and that’s what I take away from him. He came to the club in difficult circumstances, but he made an impact and I took a lot away from him, and even from my days in the academy with the club, too.”

“My first experience … was a real eye-opener for me.”

Whilst this is Starkey’s first extended experience as the top man on the touchline in the JD Cymru Premier, he has been in the hotseat before and reflected on the experience.

Last year, after Huw Griffiths left the role as manager and before Stuart Gelling came in, Starkey took the reins for a short period and managed to lead the Ancients to a win in the process.

“My first experience was last season against Airbus at the start of Phase Two, which was a real eye-opener for me. I had two weeks of training between Huw leaving and Stuart coming in, but I really enjoyed it and learned an awful lot – it is very different because suddenly the pressure was on me.

“In the past I had been suggesting changes to the manager, whether that be personnel, tactics or anything else, but now it was all falling to me to manage and there was a lot more responsibility – at the end of it all we got a 2-1 win so I was really pleased with that.

“I joked that I had a Sam Allardyce record in the Cymru Premier, a 100% win rate until this year! It has been more of a challenge this year, and it is going to take time. Stepping up after Bruno comes with the pressure of trying to deliver results, but also putting the belief back into the players in themselves.”

“People joke that if they cut me up I’d bleed back and white.”

He’s been at the club for a number of years, and Starkey’s affinity to the club is clear as he explains the appeal of the club and why the Ancients are fondly thought of by fans of other clubs in the league and elsewhere.

“People joke that if they cut me up I’d bleed black and white, and this club is personal to me. I’m a local lad, I was never good enough to play for the club, but to be involved in this way over the last number of years has meant an awful lot to me.

“Cefn Druids means a lot to Welsh football, I think, and a lot of people in the domestic game seem to have us as their favourite ‘second club’ – whether that was because of the history of the club, or something else I don’t know, but we’ve always been fondly thought of.

“The atmosphere at the club is really friendly, we want everybody to enjoy coming to the Rock and we go out of our way to make it as welcoming as possible – sometimes too welcoming to the away teams, maybe! – and the new Chairman has bought into that as well.”

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