Declan McManus made his intentions clear last summer as he marked his arrival at The New Saints by scoring six goals in six European games, and the Scottish striker is now targeting a domestic double with his club ahead of the JD Welsh Cup final against Penybont on Sunday.
JD WELSH CUP FINAL TICKETS
Penybont v The New Saints
- Sunday, 1 May 2022
- Cardiff City Stadium
- Kick off: 4:00pm
- CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS
Having reclaimed the JD Cymru Premier with seven games remaining The New Saints are already preparing for a return to the UEFA Champions League next season. But having completed their league campaign with a 3-1 win over Caernarfon Town last weekend, the side are fully-focused on JD Welsh Cup glory at the Cardiff City Stadium. “We know how hard it's going to be,” explained McManus to the media. “Every game against Penybont this season has been difficult and they've made it tough for us, so it's a difficult game and we're under no illusions about that.”
McManus arrived at Park Hall from Scottish side Dunfermline Athletic last summer and immediately made headlines with a hat-trick against Viktoria Plzen in UEFA Europa Conference League before claiming the Golden Boot in his debut season. “It was something that excited me,” said the talented 27-year old when asked about his move. “It was the chance to play European football and to win trophies in another country. Thankfully, I've managed to achieve that with the league title, and hopefully now Sunday will be another one. Once I trained with these boys I knew I had the chance to score some goals. It's been a brilliant season for me individually and for the team. We've been really consistent and kept our standards high within the group.”
Anthony Limbrick became the first overseas manager to win the JD Cymru Premier as he guided The New Saints back to the top for the first time since 2019, and having been in the job for just over a year the Australian coach was keen to reflect on what has already been a successful campaign. “We felt like we raised the standard and we were pleased to get the title over the line with seven games to go,” he said. “I think it shows how far we've come as a club to get to 80 points which was very pleasing. Now we want finish strongly in the Welsh Cup final as we were the last team to win the competition, and we've shown in our team selections in previous rounds that we take this competition very seriously. I think it's an excellent cup competition personally, and now we want to go and finish it off.”
Having won the JD Cymru Premier for eight consecutive seasons between 2012 and 2019, The New Saints lost their crown to Connah's Quay Nomads during the last two years, but the appointment of former Woking manager Limbrick last April marked the start of a new era for the most successful club in the domestic game. Although his arrival came to late to prevent the Nomads retaining the title last season, the recruitment of McManus in particular headlined a busy summer at Park Hall, and their impressive results and performances in Europe set the tone for the successful domestic campaign that would follow.
However, despite their dominance in the league this season, The New Saints were held to two draws by Penybont on their way to the title. “When we've played them before we've had some of our hardest games against them,” added Limbrick. “They can really hurt you as they have some attacking threats in their team. We don't know who's going to play because of their injury situation, but they've got some really good attacking players in there. They drive forward from midfield and have experience at the back. I think Rhys (Griffiths) does an excellent job there, they're very well-organised and they're one of the better set-play teams that we've played against. We think there are some things we can exploit them with, but we're expecting a very tight and tough game, and they deserve to be in the final.”
The New Saints have enjoyed an intriguing journey to the JD Welsh Cup final this season having been drawn against lower league opponents in all five rounds of the competition. Victories over Llanrwst United, Conwy Borough, Carmarthen Town, Guilsfield and Colwyn Bay have ensured that the side return to the Cardiff City Stadium for the second time this season having defeated Viktoria Plzen there last summer, but the side have not had everything their own way. Penalties were required to see off the challenge of Carmarthen Town, while a narrow 1-0 victory over Colwyn Bay in the semi-final offered an insight into the magic of the competition.
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.
“I really enjoy the cup atmosphere and the vibe in the crowd of a knock-out competition as it adds an extra edge,” Limbrick explained. “Colwyn Bay were a good side. We planned and prepared properly and we did our research on them, but I thought they were excellent on the day. We're not embarrassed to say we were happy with the 1-0 win as we had to defend well to keep a clean-sheet in that game. I think it was a good advert for the cup at a good stadium with a good crowd. It's been a great competition and now we're grateful to be in the final and to play at a great stadium in a game that means so much.”