The JD Welsh Cup reaches the First Round stage this weekend with 40 ties taking place across Wales.
102 sides have already exited the competition in the Qualifying Rounds, and there could potentially be one or two big names of Welsh football joining them come Saturday evening.
One of those big names could well be Ton Pentre, who travel down to the capital to play Cardiff Draconians on Saturday at Llanidloes Road in Gabalfa.
A stalwart of the Cardiff Combination league for many years, the Dracs have taken off in the last couple of seasons under the management of former Wales under-21 international Layton Maxwell.
They won consecutive promotions from the South Wales Alliance League (SWAL) Second and First Divisions (the latter as Champions), also winning the Alliance’s League Cup last season, and have made a solid start to life in the SWAL Premier Division.
Playing in the JD Welsh Cup for the first time this season, Dracs have taken to the competition like ducks to water, beating Canton Liberal 8-1 in the First Qualifying Round, before taking a Welsh League scalp in the form of Tredegar Town in the following round, 5-1 the score. Sitting two leagues higher than Tredegar, Welsh League Division 1 side Ton Pentre offer a much sterner test for the Dracs, but it is one they are relishing, as Maxwell explained to FAW.Cymru.
“I think the club on a whole is looking forward to it very much. Obviously as a club we’ve never been in this position before, where we’re playing one of the big boys if you like [and] we’re looking forward to Ton coming down Saturday and we’ll give them a right good go.”
The Rhondda outfit have had a difficult start to the campaign, not winning any of their opening seven games in the league, a stat which has led to them parting company with manager Lee Phillips by mutual consent.
Maxwell knows Phillips from their Under 21 days, and says he was “a bit gutted that’s happened”, but insists Ton’s form won’t have much bearing on Saturday’s game. “Look, they’re a Welsh League Division One outfit; their reputation alone, our lads will raise their game for that, no matter where they are in the league, simple as that. They’re four leagues above us and it’s a big test for us.”
A big test indeed, and a good measure of where Dracs want to be, given the club has ambitions to establish itself in the Welsh League, though Maxwell thinks that a third successive promotion will be a big ask.
“We’re at the right place at this moment in time. When I came in 18 months or so ago, we were in the bottom league of the Alliance and it was tough. I think I’ve only got 3 or 4 from the original squad, I’ve had to bring players in, I’ve known a few of them, reputations and what not, but there’s no doubt we’ve got the basis of a squad for the Welsh League. I’ve got some good young talent mixed with some seasoned pros who’ve played at that level, and we’re a close-knit group now.”
Maxwell is also hopeful that the experience those players in his side have of Welsh League football will stand them in good stead.
“Our captain Liam Williams was successful with Taffs Well for many years, we’re lucky to have him here, and another guy Tom McLean is young, still learning but [as McLean proceeds to score from 20 yards] can produce moments like that!”
Williams believes that there is a confidence within the squad ahead of the game. “Obviously they’re a better side, in a higher division than us, but we’re always confident, especially at home where we don’t fear anyone. We’ve just got to go out and enjoy it, there’s no pressure on us, and whatever happens, happens.”
Whatever does happen, this one has all the makings of a cup classic.
The full set of Round 1 fixtures can be viewed by clicking here.
The draw for Round 2 will take place live on the FA Wales Facebook page from approximately 1:00pm on Sunday, 8 October.