page updated: Fri, 24 Nov 23 : 11:35 - refresh for updates
To read all last season blog posts scroll through posts on the young guns page
It has been a case of taking steps in a positive direction recently for some promising Welsh youngsters. Derby County midfielder Cruz Allen (2007) was included on the bench for the Ram’s team that played a game in the Bristol Motors Trophy competition in October, and this was repeated for their next game early this month. There was a difference on the second occasion though, as he was introduced as a substitute with more than ten minutes of the game remaining to be played. A first year scholar at the club, Cruz was I am sure excited to have made his first team debut and it provides plenty of motivation for him to continue developing his talents as he embarks on a career in football. Cruz has been gaining a good amount of experience in the demands of international football having first played for Wales in U-15 games and then moving on to become a member of the U-16 squad last season. During the international break he played for the U-17 team in their UEFA qualification games as they impressively secured passage to the elite round of the competition. Already on the field for around ten minutes before Cruz was introduced in the Bristol Motors Trophy game, defender Dan Cox (2006), whom I included in a blog earlier this season was also a debutant.
That same week, in another game in the Bristol Motors Trophy competition, Wrexham defender Daniel Davies (2004) also celebrated his debut when selected to start in their final group game. The club’s well documented assembling of a strong playing staff to facilitate a return to the Football League and now support their ambition to further climb the pyramid, sets a high standard for their promising youngsters to warrant playing time and so we can deduce that he has impressed sufficiently to do so. He will now be inspired to continue his progress and possibly gain another opportunity as they progress in the competition. Daniel collected a handful of Wales caps when he represented the nation in U-18 matches during the 2021/22 season.
Crewe Alexandra’s U-18 team progressed into the third round of the FA Youth Cup last week and there were three Welsh youngsters in the victorious second round team. Midfielder Calum Agius (2005), already young gun inclusion in September after making his debut, was one of the participants. Callum has continued to progress and has been on the bench for a recent League Two game along with making an appearance in the waning minutes of their first round FA Cup tie. Forward Rhys Allport (2006) along with Calum was a scorer in the youth cup match. He is a second year scholar at the club and in the last few days has added a first team debut to his credentials after being introduced as a second half substitute for the Bristol Motors Trophy match. He had the added excitement of being a goal scorer in the game as well. Last season, Rhys was called up for the Wales U-17 squad that competed in the UEFA finals although he remained in a standby capacity during the tournament. The other goal scorer in the Trophy match was forward Connor Evans (2003), a full professional at the club for the past couple of seasons and had previously played in first team games for them. He has been on loan at Chester FC this season and was similarly involved with other local clubs last season. Connor was first involved with Wales teams in 2017 when he played in the Cymru Cup games and in the 2020/21 season played for the U-18 team. Returning to a discussion of the youth cup match, the third member of the team was defender Matthew Senior (2005), also in his second year as a scholar at Crewe. He also joined Rhys in the Bristol Motors Trophy squad and likewise was introduced into the game at the start of the second and thus becoming another debutant. As a schoolboy, Matt was affiliated with Bury football club and collected caps when playing for the Wales U-15 team at that time. The club’s financial trouble and subsequent demise when going defunct resulted in his recruitment by Crewe. Matt then played for the Wales U-17’s in the 2021/22 season.
Oxford United U-18’s is another team who will play in the third round of the FA Youth Cup after winning their second round tie. Forward Louis Griffiths (2007), another with a previous mention when making his historic first team debut a couple of months ago, was however unable to participate in the victorious match. He was unavailable due to his selection as a member of the Wales U-17 squad assembled for the qualification matches and recorded his first international goal in one of the games. Another scorer in the competition was Norwich City forward Elliot Myles (2007) whose goal secured the defeat of the Belgium U-17 team. Elliot, a first year scholar at Norwich, plays regularly for their U-18 team after having gained experience playing in a double digit number of games at that level last season. He has amassed a good deal of exposure to the demands of international age grade competition by not only playing in U-15, U-16 and U-17 matches for Wales but has done so for the England teams during those seasons as well.
Here we are, one year removed from a time of great anticipation when the World Cup finals consumed our thoughts. After all those decades of waiting and hoping, it had arrived, we were going to witness our national team participating once more. Suffice, to say, we do not wish to rekindle those memories of what transpired later, other than concede to our collective disappointment at the eventual outcome. We did have the very important consolation that a successful qualification had been achieved and we no longer needed to add another four years to the agonizingly large number in between attendance at the big party. It was time to move on and think of better times ahead. The next Euros were only a year and a half away, a competition we could feel there would be reduced anxiety in the qualification process and success would allow us to boast a threepeat of doing so to our rivals. But wait a minute, there needed to be caution added to that runaway part of our thoughts. We really need to rewind back to those glorious days of the summer of 2016, everything fell into place perfectly, until the cruel blow of having to contest the semi-final without a couple of parts that had us ticking along like a Swiss watch up to that point. Never mind, every team can reflect on having to deal with adversity, if it’s not to be, it’s not to be, as they say, and it was really a fantastic experience and the euphoria created was magical. How much so was evident when we allowed ourselves to think that the wait between World Cup’s we could really enjoy, was going to be a sixty year pause that was coming to an end. The team had peaked in 2016 and it quickly became evident that it could not be sustained. There certainly were some very talented youngsters showing sufficient signs of high promise, but their game was still in the development stage, and they couldn’t yet provide enough of a difference. Another four years had to be added to the sixty, and so could we be consoled by at least qualifying for another Euro tournament? The answer was yes, a strong backbone already in place was eventually supplemented with enough quality to ensure we were in a celebratory mood when the qualification group games were completed. It took until the final game for confirmation, a comfortably attained victory sent a rapturous crowd into a celebratory choral rendition. The Euro 2020 (or 2021 when it took place) couldn’t provide a repeat of four years earlier, but enough was achieved for a belief the team was on a potentially upward trend. Could that transcend into an opportunity to finally leave those years in the wilderness behind as we returned to the promised land? Again, a positive answer to the query, and Qatar was a destination the team had in its itinerary. It had required a tense play-off victory and some superhuman efforts to get there, but the misfortune of not having all the parts running at their best proved to be an insurmountable obstacle that subdued our celebrations as 2022 came to an end. Refocusing by looking ahead, there were certainly some concerns, as we could sense another partial changing of the guard was inevitable. In the springtime of this year our confidence was boosted when it looked as though the transition could be on a smooth path. Then came the summer devastation and a realization that we may have been unrealistic in our estimations. A respite, then as a new season began and so hope springs eternally. Returning to those first words I wrote, hear we are. With two wins already secured, it requires two more to complete what we thought was an improbability, automatic qualification. Can they do it? I don’t know has to be my only answer, but the “yma o hyd” part of my DNA allows me to think in optimistic terms. A repeat of the quality and determination shown in October’s match will undoubtedly be needed to overcome difficult opponents. Let’s hope there will be raucous cheering and a voluminous song output at the Cardiff City Stadium on November 21st. Please excuse my long preamble. I couldn’t resist putting down my emotions and thoughts into words that I hope didn’t bore you.
After impressing their scouts when playing in the Cymru Premier for Penybont, Burnley signed forward Tom Tweedy (2004) in this year’s January transfer window. Still eligible to play for their U-18 team at that time, he played in games for both of their development teams in the following weeks. This season, Tom has played regularly for the U-21’s and is progressing well at the club. His aim will be to secure first team consideration, but with it competing in the Premier League this season, he will need to perform at high standards to do so. Able to witness the preparation, quality and abilities first hand should provide invaluable experience on what is necessary to reach his goal. Hopefully Tom will reach the potential Burnley envisioned when signing him. Two Welsh qualified youngsters, defender Oliver Sweeney (2005) and forward Rohan Vaughan (2005) are second year scholars at the club and played extensively for the U-18 team last season. Oliver has continued doing so this season, but Rohan has not. Lacking information, I presume he must be dealing with an injury issue.
photo embedded from FAW cymru ]