Pennies are Champions!

Friday 1st April 2022 11:00 am
(Picture: Andrew Kennedy )

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From the outset Abergavenny Women FC has been determined to win the Adran South league this season, which was achieved at home on the evening of Wednesday March 23, reports ANDREW KENNEDY.

With 13 matches played and a rival club snapping at their heels in the hope that the Pennies might slip up now that the title race had gone to the wire, the pressure was certainly on the home team’s players as they came out for their final match of the season. Quite simply, win this, gain three more league points and win the league, or get pipped at the post.

Widely respected across Wales and priding itself on the ethos ‘Develop as a Club, Deliver as a Family’, the 2021/22 season has seen Abergavenny Women FC grow in stature from such bonds. Last year’s shake up of the women’s domestic game in Wales saw the Pennies deemed as not meeting the FAW’s new Tier 1 requirements and so the club found itself demoted from top flight football at the end of the season, despite gaining 4th place in the league and even getting a last match draw away at Swansea City, the league champions.

Such a blow might have seen players walk away in droves, but instead the Pennies and their coaches showed incredible resilience and gained strength together with the collective aim to win the league and return to the top flight at the first opportunity. It was Cascade YC Ladies and Briton Ferry Llansawel Ladies that were also demoted at the time, and as the subsequent season reached its last matches the three teams held the top Adran South positions, but only the top spot might lead to promotion.

Dominating the league for much of this season, the night of Wednesday 23 March saw the Pennies line up under the floodlights at Pen-Y-Pound for their season finale against Cascade YC Ladies, never an easy team to play.

As expected, the visitors were customarily difficult, chasing down balls with determination and making a rhythm of play difficult. Such battles can go goal-less for extended periods but the breakthrough came as early as the 6th minute, with Amy Thrupp the scorer. What unfolded was absolutely a team effort, but it was Amy Thrupp that delivered all three Abergavenny goals with a perfect hat-trick – right foot, left-foot, and header, at 6 minutes, 57 minutes and 84 minutes, while Charlotte Hastings in goal kept a clean sheet, the 3-0 win taking the team to 88 goals scored in just 14 league matches.

The top three scorers in the league are all Pennies, Lyndsey Davies (24 goals), Maxine Mudge (14) and Lauren Boyd (12), with Amy Thrupp on 11 goals despite only 7 league appearances. Incredibly, 16 of the regular squad members have scored in open play, including goalie Charlotte Hastings, while a dozen of the 25 players seeing 1st team action are teenagers – Elena Scrivens, Ffion Simmonds and Olivia Barnes were all in the starting XI of this crucial match, and two more came off the bench. Many of them have enjoyed the progression and extra experience available from the club’s new Under 19 squad, and ahead of that team the pathway begins at Under 16, with many of the youngest Pennies on hand to soak up the joy of the league winning celebrations.

Captain Ceri Hudson was buoyant with the league title won, “It’s what we set out to do at the start of the season, but actually having a goal and then going out and achieving it is a different thing.

“I think the girls deserve it, I think our coaching staff deserve it, especially after what happened to us last year. I think the girls deserve a lot of credit for sticking together, being loyal to the club, and I think tonight that they were fantastic – they’ve been fantastic all season and they’ve got the job done. I’m so proud of them.

“I’ve played at this club now for 10 years and I’d never play anywhere else, and I’m so proud to play here. Every time I put on the shirt I put it on for the girls, I put it on for my friends, my team-mates and I put it on with pride – I think that goes a long way in football.”

Of the teenage talent coming through the ranks Ceri said, “We’ve had so many Under 19s make their debut. I think they’ve been phenomenal when they’ve come on as well, and you can see that we’ve trained together as well because when they come on they know exactly what they’ve got to do. We play in one way and we have started to create a real clear pathway, and that’s from Under 16s all the way to seniors, and long may it continue.”

Team boss Craig Morgan-Hill had quite a day too, “Today’s been a pretty wild day, my beautiful wife give birth to our second daughter this morning, both doing well, and then come back and the league title in the bag, so it’s been a manic day.”

Looking back to last summer he said, “My aim was purely whatever happens this year we have to win the league, we have to get promoted, and I made a promise to the club, to Stu (Summers), that I would deliver on that. We’ve worked the girls hard, they’ve worked hard and of course this is the reward. I’m quite happy to deliver on that promise.

“We said from Day Dot, I think everyone had one mission this year and that was to go out and prove that we deserve to be in the top Tier and you know we’ve won the league, so we can’t do much more than that now.”

The reshaping of the women’s game in Wales was driven by a quest to encourage ever higher standards across all tiers in the game, and now the players coming through the Abergavenny ranks can look towards their 1st team activity as a potential Tier 1 club – winning the league was key to this process before promotion to the Adran Premier league was possible.

The team has done its talking on the pitch this year and proved itself more than capable, and meanwhile much more has been going on behind the scenes in readiness to make the return of top flight football a reality, albeit the process and final authorisation to ‘move up’ is pending. Watch this space.

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