JD Welsh Cup glory can start a new era for Penybont
27 April 2022

JD Welsh Cup glory can start a new era for Penybont

Rhys Griffiths was a serial winner during his illustrious playing career in the domestic game and believes success for his Penybont side against The New Saints in the JD Welsh Cup final at the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday (4pm) will create a legacy.


Penybont v The New Saints

“It's difficult to describe how much it means to be honest,” explained the 42-year old manager earlier this week. “As a player you probably don't appreciate how much hard work goes on in the background at a club. One of our aims was to win the Welsh Cup, or certainly get to the final, so to see that all that hard work come to fruition is special, and not just for the club but for the town. When I started here, I felt Bridgend deserved a bigger football team. To win the first piece of silverware for the club would be fantastic and it will go a long way to being a part of this team's legacy. The first win is always the best.” 

As a former striker, Griffiths won seven consecutive Golden Boot awards in the JD Cymru Premier between 2006 and 2012, and he is the second all-time leading goalscorer in the history of the top-flight. Scoring 180 goals in the colours of Llanelli, Griffiths won the JD Welsh Cup for the only time in his career in 2011 as he scored twice in a 4-1 win over Bangor City at Parc-Y-Scarlets. “It was a wonderful day,” said Griffiths. “At the time it was my happiest day in football, and possibly still is. In hindsight, it was great for the people involved, but it felt a lot about me as I wanted to win it for me. This one is nothing to do with me, I want to win it for the players, the staff, the club, the supporters and everyone who has supported me, so it seems a lot less selfish than it did all those years ago.”

Although success on the field defined the day for Griffiths, the trophy presentation from the late Gary Speed who was Cymru manager at the time would also prove poignant. “I'm an Everton fan and he obviously played for Everton,” he added. “I was thrilled to meet him on the day and for him to present us with the cup. About a month later I was doing my ‘B’ Licence and he came up to me and said to me about my header on the day, and I think carries on about what everyone has said about him. He made the effort to come and tell me about a goal I had scored and that was amazing, but little did I know that in the November he would pass away and those feelings doubled and trebled. It is such a sad thing that he's gone, but I was so pleased that I had been able to meet him and that he played a very small part in my story.”

Rhys Griffiths, Penybont Manager
Rhys Griffiths, Penybont Manager

Injuries and suspensions have made for a difficult end to the current season for Penybont, and the side head into Sunday’s final on the back of seven straight defeats. However, Penybont have made things difficult for The New Saints during the campaign, drawing two of their four league games against the champions. “We've always pushed them hard and we do a lot of homework on them,” Griffiths added. “We play with certain principles and always seem to do something right against them. Although things have petered out over the last few weeks, I think we can reflect positively on the season regardless of what happens in the final. Our form doesn't worry me at all as that's the nature of the top six. The injuries and suspensions that we have picked up meant that we had no choice other than to play some development players.”

Shaun MacDonald was a high-profile signing for Penybont back in December, and the former Cymru international booked their place in the final as he scored the decisive penalty in the shoot-out against Bala Town at Aberystwyth in the semi-final. “It was a great feeling,” MacDonald explained. “I don't think it really matters what level you play at, to score the winning penalty or the winning goal is always a massive achievement, especially in the cup semi-final. We've got a really good bunch of honest lads here who really work hard for each other, but we've got another big test ahead of us on Sunday.” 

Prior to the semi-final win, Penybont saw off the challenge of Undy Athletic, Cambrian & Clydach Vale, Caernarfon Town and Taffs Well in the earlier rounds of the competition, and Griffiths is now excited about the prospect of leading his team out at the Cardiff City Stadium. “It's the showcase event and we need to aim for the top by playing it in a showcase ground and fill it as best we can,” he explained. “When I found out it was at the Cardiff City Stadium I was pleased on a number of levels, but I didn't really consider how I would feel. I've played in big grounds before, and it's nothing to me really. But I walked in there the other day and it hit me how wonderful the place is. It's going to be a great occasion for everyone.”


WATCH: The FAW's Head of Public Relations, Ian Gwyn Hughes discusses his favourite Welsh Cup Finals, many of which he commentated on for BBC Wales.


A fierce determination fuelled Griffiths’s ambitions throughout his playing career, and having taken over at Penybont as a Tier 2 side in the summer of 2016, he believes the club is now ready to move to the next level on and off the field with a UEFA Europa Conference League place available to the cup winners. “Financially, getting to Europe would help massively,” he added. “It’s hard running a club at this level and the money from Europe would make a huge difference. That’s important, but from a football perspective we all want to test ourselves and create history. I did it as a player, and our success in the Welsh Cup has given us a little taste of what it could be like. These are things you get when you start having a little bit of success, and it will start to become more familiar for us.”

But while Griffiths has a long association with the domestic game and knows what it takes to achieve success in the top-flight, MacDonald has quickly adapted to his new surroundings following his career in the English pyramid system. “I think it's a very tough league with competitive games,” the 33-year old explained. “You come against different teams with different styles and tactics. It's been a learning curve for some of our young boys, but I came into this league knowing there were some very good players in it, and it's not been a surprise to me how a good a level it's been. The final will be a great experience and a great occasion for our lads, and we need to go out there with no pressure on ourselves. I'm sure that if we do everything right this week, we will go out there and put on a show on Sunday.”