Its at this time of year where clubs across Wales in the JD Cymru Premier would be gearing up for the most lucrative game in Welsh domestic football - the JD Cymru Premier European Playoff Final.
These finals are always amongst the highlights of the domestic calendar with so much on the line for all clubs involved, and although we can’t bring you a final this weekend due to the current pandemic, we can bring you the reflections of some of the managers who have been involved in the showpiece fixture in recent years.
Our final diary feature of this week sees us bring you the story of Cardiff Met’s Playoff Final triumph at the third time of asking. You’ve already heard from their manager, Christian Edwards, this week on his thoughts about coming up short in the previous two years, but now you can relive his side’s incredible journey to finally succeeding and reaching the promised land of European Football.
Hear more from Christian as his Met side finally got over the line below.
Chritian Edwards - Cardiff Met - Playoff Final 2018/19
‘The team we didn’t want was Caernarfon away.’
We finally got to Europe, but not the way we wanted to. The obsession for all clubs is the top six, but we didn’t achieve that, so our league season was a failure because we’d taken a backwards step.
After the split we went eight unbeaten in the bottom half and secured our place in the playoffs. Looking at who we could face, the team we didn’t want was Caernarfon away, so of course that is who we ended up playing.
They beat us twice earlier in the season in a really physical battle down at Cyncoed and won 2-0 against us at The Oval, so the omens weren’t great, and they were flying in their first season back in the JD Cymru Premier.
I remember speaking to a journalist pre-match who thought it was going to be tough for us, and I could tell from what he was saying that nobody fancied us, and that we were in for a long night.
Caernarfon scored early, went 1-0 up, and we were really up against it before the wall behind the goal fell over, which was a gamechanger, really.
It took 10 minutes to sort out and we took that time to remind the players to think about the game, not the occasion, because up until then we looked a bit shell-shellshocked.
It was a hostile atmosphere with a big crowd and scoring first was huge for them, but the wall collapsing was vital for us because it took the sting out of them and after that I felt like there was only going to be one winner and we scored three tremendous goals to win 3-2.
‘We do things the hard way, always.’
We were applauded out of the Caernarfon clubhouse, which showed we’d done something right, and we had many messages from their fans afterwards praising us, before facing Bala in the final.
We’d been to Bala before and played well, but only ever won there once. That being said, whilst I don’t want to say it was written in the stars, there just seemed to be something in the air that day that made me think it was our year.
We do things the hard way, the long way, always, and to go to Caernarfon and win in the playoffs then go to Bala and do the same, if you can do that then you earn your right to play in Europe, and we really did.
We conceded first. A sloppy goal from a poorly defended throw-in, and I just saw people looking at me. That big Sgorio touchline camera was pointed at me, saying ‘here you go again’. The players and looked at me for answers, and I told them they knew what they had to do – they’d been here before.
It was important that we scored quickly to respond, and we did, happening exactly as we’d planned and Eliot got that goal. We hit the post, we hit the bar, and Bala did the same, and as it got to extra time it was only ever going to head for penalties.
‘I’ll never forget the whip of the net after that penalty went in.’
I remember going to Wembley to watch Swansea beat Reading on penalties in the Playoff Finals, and I’ve always said it is great to be champions, to be promoted in second, but to win a playoff final on that stage against a big team was the way to do it, and that is kind of how we did it with Cardiff Met. That day at Bala was our Wembley, and we won by penalty shootout.
You’d put your house on Kyle McCarthy scoring. He missed. Will Evans’ penalty was saved. Chris Venables put it over the bar for Bala. Mike Hayes missed. Then Emlyn scored – he’ll never score another penalty like that in his life – and we just stood there thinking ‘where is this shootout going?’
Then we realised if we scored the next one, we’d be going to Europe. I remember asking the Fourth Official if I was right and if we scored this one we’d won. He said it was, and Colin asked the same, because we were both so caught up in all the drama.
When I saw that it was Eliot stepping up to take it, I may as well have already started celebrating, because I knew he wasn’t going to miss.
There are four players at Cardiff Met who’ve been with us longest: Charlie Corsby, Eliot Evans, Kyle McCarthy and Will Fuller. Will had his moments in the game, Kyle had his moments on the way to the final, and Charlie had had his two years prior against Carmarthen, so it was left to just Eliot, who has been with us since the beginning.
He stepped up, took a lifetime to hit it, and the ‘keeper went so early, giving Eliot the opportunity to score. I’ll never forget the whip of the net after he scored and it was pandemonium after that.
‘There was just something telling me it was our time.’
Had we lost that final it would have been my last game as Cardiff Met Manager, no doubt about it, but what a journey we had to get to that point, and then to get into Europe.
I’d play in Europe for no prize money at all, because that experience was incredible and everything we thought it would be. It was phenomenal.
We don’t need that prize money to validate what we’ve done – it’s all about the players, the moments, the memories and the experience. Its magical.
It might sound romantic, but for us it is, because of where we’ve come from and where we’re going to. We don’t know where the journey ends, which is why we enjoy every step of the way.
I wish Josh Barnett was in the squad that went to Europe, I wish Adam Roscrow was, Eliot Scotcher too and many others, but the club moves on and we’ve got to keep moving – that’s been our story.
We’ve lived off Europe, we still speak about it and, as I’m talking to you, my son has a picture on his wall of being in Luxembourg and Cardiff with the team, so it wasn’t just about the players and coaches, but the families, friends, and volunteers as much as anyone else.
We wanted them to enjoy it as much as anyone. They’ve had to endure this journey as much as we have, and that success we had was for everyone associated with Cardiff Met.
I don’t think winning our first final would have meant as much to us, and I genuinely believe we were only ever going to win against Bala that day – there was just something telling me it was our time.
Christian Edwards - Cardiff Met - Playoff Final 2017/18
You heard from Christian Edwards yesterday after the Archers fell short against Bangor City in the JD Cymru Premier European Playoff Final in their debut season in the top flight.
And we go back to the Students again, as we revisit the manager's thoughts on the 2017/18 final when Met came up against a resilient Cefn Druids side.
Hear more from Edwards below.
2017/18 Season – After losing the final, I wasn’t sure if I had the motivation to do it all again.
The players were incredible in the early part of the season to commit to everything we asked them to do – we demand a lot of them in terms of work on their fitness and so on, but they were hungry and eager to go again, and we started the season like a house on fire.
We were top at November after beating Prestatyn away 2-0, and we were suddenly thinking ‘wow, we could do something here’ and I think teams started to take us more seriously after that, because we just weren’t going away and kept on pushing forward.
We got across the line once again and finished inside the top six, which is such a huge boost for clubs because we can already start planning for next season in January knowing we’re safe – and I think getting into the top six has become an obsession for teams for that reason alone, on top of the possibility of getting into Europe if the playoffs go your way.
We’d had some great battles against Cefn Druids that season – I have a lot of respect for the work Huw Griffiths did there and we always used to have really exciting, challenging games against them. They really did have our number as the season went on, though, and I think they were unbeaten against us in our three meetings prior to obviously facing them in the playoff final.
We finished in sixth again at the end of the regular season, before finding out what had happened with Bangor and their licensing issues, then quickly we’re all trying to piece together who plays who and how things are going to work out, and as it turns out we ended up playing Barry Town United.
Barry have followed us all the way up the divisions in recent years, and it was probably fitting in their first season back at this level that we’d played them in the playoffs. We were coming off a poor second half to the season and they’d gone unbeaten in 10 games, I think, going into that game against us, and I can remember a lot of people saying that Barry’s run meant they’d get through.
I argued that the intensity of the top six would put us in good stead, but as always we were written off and regardless of that we went on to dominate the game and win comfortably to find our way into the final once again at The Rock against Cefn Druids.
It was a really tough, tactical game on a hot day against a very good side, and I think this time our players probably felt the pressure a lot more than they had done the year before.
Druids had finished fifth, we finished sixth, and probably for us all there was a sense of being able to actually win the game – as opposed to the year before where we never really expected to beat Bangor – so I think losing that one was the one that hurt the most.
They scored early and we didn’t really look like scoring on the day, and afterwards it was tough – the players were showing a lot of emotion, and I tried to find the right words to say, but I could just see that the players were drained, they didn’t have anything left.
I had my moment myself on the bus on the way home, I got quite emotional myself, and I didn’t know if I could get myself motivated to do it again and go for another season after nine years of being in charge at the club, but a few days later I was convinced I was ready to go and I set about convincing the players to do the same.
I remember one coach saying they weren’t sure they had the motivation anymore, and some of my players were the same, and I understood that and said there were no hard feelings, but everyone stayed and we went again.
Christian Edwards - Cardiff Met - Playoff Final 2016/17
You heard from Andy Morrison yesterday as he looked back on Connah’s Quay Nomads’ win against Airbus in the 2016 final, but today we hear from Cardiff Met’s Christian Edwards who reflects on his side coming up just short in the final against Bangor City – a storied journey for Met who had reached the final in their first season back at this level after a wonderful rise through the leagues.
Hear more from Christian below.
‘The idea of playing in Europe was a pipedream.’
The initial ambition for me when I took over on in 2010 and we were in Welsh Division Three was just to really bring a focus to the football club and get a football club up and running the way it should be, really, and thinking about how I could get people to buy into what the club was about.
Within a season or two we were thinking Welsh Division One could be a reality, but it wasn’t until we got our 3G pitch that I really thought we could achieve more than that. We reached the JD Cymru Premier in 2016 and the four years since have been a total rollercoaster.
We were cannon fodder when we came up – yes, we’d had games against Cymru Premier sides in the JD Welsh Cup, winning some and losing some, but over a 32-game season nobody gave us a chance. Being in this league and holding our own was a pipedream back in 2010, and so was the idea of playing in Europe, but to be a part of it last summer was just incredible.
‘We were stepping into the lion’s den.’
All we’d spoken about was that at the end of our first season we’d wanted to have given our best efforts, and made sure that we did our best to stay in the league – if we finished third-from-bottom it would have been a huge achievement! We were stepping into the lion’s den, and it was a big ask for us.
We didn’t secure our first point until our sixth game, then we won our first game the weekend after away at Llandudno, but in the following weeks we went nine unbeaten and won most of those games, and that run catapulted us right into the playoff conversation.
We secured the top six by virtue of Aber dropping points in their last game, and then lost almost every game in the top six, before going into the playoffs against Carmarthen.
They fancied themselves against us, went ahead in the game, before Adam Roscrow lobbed Lee Idzi on to equalise and in my 55 layers of clothes on that I never take off for games due to superstition I saw Charlie Corsby score the winner in the 92nd minute to send us through to the final when everything just erupted! If Charlie had a thick head of hair he’d have probably headed that over, but thankfully he doesn’t!
‘We weren’t quite ready to win it yet.’
To play Bangor City in the final was incredible. Truth be known, we were always going to be short that year – we were missing big players in the final and came up against a very good side who scored early through Dean Rittenberg and they won.
It was disappointing that Bangor won, but I felt like we’d won as well in a way – our group applauded Bangor for their season on the pitch and the City fans were thanking us for the gesture.
We’d earnt a lot of friends that day, and on the journey home you’d think we’d won it because the players were in great spirits because of what we’d achieved to even be in that final. Nobody believed we’d stay up, never mind come up just short in the Playoff Final against a very good Bangor City side.
It was easy to pick the lads up and go again after that. If we could have started again on the Monday we would have done, because the players felt they’d had an opportunity and a taste of what it felt like to get so close to doing something incredible. It was disappointing not to win the final, of course, but we weren’t quite ready to win it yet.
Andy Morrison - Connah's Quay Nomads - Playoff Final 2015/16
Today we bring you the story of Connah’s Quay Nomads and how Andy Morrison – new to the job – took his side from the relegation zone of the JD Cymru Premier in November 2015 to winning the league’s European Playoff Final against former club Airbus UK Broughton in the following summer.
Hear more from Morrison below.
‘TNS was a pivotal game of the season for us.’
When I came into the club in November my first target was just to do as well as possible and see where that took us. My first game in charge was against Carmarthen and we were bottom of the league, but we won 4-0 on the day and got off to a great start.
In the back of my mind, given where we were in the standings, I knew it would be an incredible achievement to even get into the top six, because then that does guarantee you a playoff spot. I don’t ever try to think too far ahead, but reaching the playoffs was in the back of my mind.
We got off to a good start, won the next game as well, and then we were up and running, getting into the top six on the last day by beating TNS 2-0 at home. Results, as it happened, had gone our way anyway, so we didn’t need to beat TNS, but we were into the top six and achieved our goals.
It was a pivotal game in the season for us, it gave us a lot of confidence going into the top six that we could go and cause any team real problems – especially at home, because our form there was formidable.
I had a good group of players though, and I never lose sight of that – yes, before I came in they were struggling and lacking a little bit of confidence and guidance, but I knew they had quality and knew that if I could get them playing the way I wanted them to, utilising our strengths, and the TNS win really cemented that belief.
‘Nobody wants to go into the playoffs and miss out. It is brutal.’
It is a relief to start with to get into the top six, then you look at the gaps between teams and work out if you can pick any teams off and climb the table. When you can’t get into Europe automatically, the next priority has to be getting that home fixture throughout the playoffs, because it is such a big advantage for teams – especially us with our outstanding record at home.
I’d agree that there is a certain magic to the playoffs, compared to qualifying for Europe automatically, but of course you have to be successful in the playoffs then! Nobody wants to go into the playoffs and miss out, because it is brutal.
I had it as a player with Manchester City – we got promoted through the playoffs when I was there – but I’ve also been knocked out in the semi-finals when I was at Blackpool, so I know the heartache that the playoffs bring. If you can pull it off and win, it is a magical event, but on the flipside it can be incredibly painful and difficult to pick yourself up, but thankfully for us it went very well.
In the semi-final against Carmarthen we were 2-0 up, before Danny Harrison got sent off and conceded a penalty. John Rushton made a big save – John Danby was out for the playoffs with a broken finger – but Carmarthen got a goal and pulled one back, and it was the Alamo for the last 15 minutes as they had six or seven good chances.
We were really shot to bits, they gambled and pushed on and caused us no end of problems, and at the end of the day there was a relief that we had managed to see it through and get to the final. We expected Airbus to win their semi-final, and they did, and then we had that magical day which meant so much to me personally.
‘I always believed it was meant to be.’
I’ve always believed in fate, and I thought there were so many things that happened during the season that culminated in Connah’s Quay versus Airbus. I was at Airbus for three seasons, and far from happy with how things had come to a head there, and for me it was the perfect scenario to be playing them in the final. I was nothing but confident, in a very quiet, passive way, going into the game.
When we went into the playoffs, for the four teams every year it usually seems to be the manager’s job to play down his team and to say how their team is the underdogs etc. but I just went straight in and said we’re the favourites. We were the best-ranked team in the playoffs, playing at home throughout, and I said all the way through I expected us to win it, and I believe it as well – I always believed it was meant to be.
There was nothing in the game, there was quite a bit of shadow boxing for the first 30 minutes. Airbus were probably better than us early-on, but I remember the turning point coming soon afterwards when Sean Smith made a tackle and wiped out when of their players in a 50/50, and it changed the momentum of the game.
It was an outstanding challenge that changed the entire game, and we just went on from there and never looked back. We finished the first half very well, and then started the second half very well. Airbus never really created anything, and ultimately Wes Baynes got the goal at the end, shooting through three or four players before going in.
The relief and the pride and the inner peace I felt at the end was significant, because it was one of my objectives when I went in to push the club forward and be successful. It was an incredible day for so many different reasons.
‘The Final has been pivotal to everything we’ve done.’
I had nothing in my mind’s eye but winning that final, I never even contemplated us not winning that final. I don’t know if we would have been able to go on and push forward like we did had we not won that final. Everything went as I’d hoped for and I never thought about losing the game.
That final has been pivotal in everything we’ve done. That summer we went on and beat Stabaek in Europe, which was a staggering achievement for a part-time Welsh team to beat a full-time Norwegian team who were halfway through their season, and we built on from there.
We were never going to challenge TNS the following year, we were still miles behind them and anyone who thought otherwise was kidding themselves – that was the year they went on and broke the world record for consecutive wins – but we were much stronger and had a great season, finishing second, but we were still miles behind TNS at that time.
Europe was a fantastic reward for the hard work we’d put in that season and that first experience with Connah’s Quay is something I’ll never forget.
For so many different reasons, the emotions that were around the Airbus game have sort of eclipsed everything else – the Kilmarnock result, winning the JD Welsh Cup, winning the Nathaniel MG Cup, etc. – because it was the start of something, you know, and it proved to me as well that I could do the job and that I could drive a team on and into Europe.
It was so magical, and something I’ll never ever forget.