Craig Harrison, The New Saints manager, talks to FAW.Cymru ahead of the JD Welsh Cup Final on Monday, 2 May 2016.
Facing the prospect of winning the club’s fourth JD Welsh Cup in five years, Craig Harrison, the manager of The New Saints, has spoken of his fondness for the competition.
Victory at the Racecourse on the 2 May would mean TNS are winners of the last three JD Welsh Cups in succession, a feat that only the likes of Bangor City and Barry Town can claim to have accomplished previously.
Craig Harrison said ‘It has always been a special cup to me. Before I came in, TNS hadn’t won the cup many times but they’ve won it three times since I’ve been in charge, and this could be our third time in succession.
‘To win it three years in a row would be a massive achievement in this modern era of the Welsh Premier League, but even more so it would be an opportunity to win the Double-Treble, which no-one has done before.
‘We’re expected to win and need to win the league, we’re a full-time team so we should be winning the league. We had a meeting at the start of the season about our goals for the year ahead and the aim was to go unbeaten throughout the season and to win everything.’
Excitement akin to Europe
One of TNS’ admirable qualities is how they’re continuously motivated, year on year, to win everything. Regardless of how successful they’ve been in the previous year, the next year is always about doing things better.
Despite the club’s relatively vast European experience, Harrison ranks the excitement and the emotion of the JD Welsh Cup to be up there amongst those European experiences.
‘Yeah, without a doubt, we’re very excited. Ever since I’ve been involved with the Welsh Premier League – whether at TNS or Airbus previously – The JD Welsh Cup has always been considered a special competition.’ said Harrison.
‘Don’t get me wrong, our bread and butter is to win the league and that’s what gives us European qualification rounds and brings in a lot of money for us, but in terms of emotion the JD Welsh Cup Final is right up there for us.’
The Racecourse in Wrexham has been chosen as the venue for the final, with Harrison having fond memories of TNS’ 3-1 win over Aberystwyth Town in the 2013/14 final, and the TNS manager praised the FAW for their choice of venue.
‘The Cup Finals are always special experiences for me, they rank up there with the European nights, especially the final against Aberystwyth which was also played at The Racecourse.
‘It is the right decision by the FAW to showcase the JD Welsh Cup, every other national association cup final is held at a flagship stadium and it is absolutely the right decision for this final to be held at Wrexham, which is a fantastic stadium.’
The Saints recently suffered a 3-2 defeat at the hands of their Cup Final opponents, Airbus UK Broughton, in the league, with some questions being raised regarding the motivation of the reigning league champions.
Having won the league the previous week against Bala Town, and securing their passage to the JD Welsh Cup Final after drubbing Connah’s Quay the week before that, it was perhaps understandable that TNS might have taken their foot off the gas somewhat.
‘Our performance on against Airbus that day was poor – was that down to the fact we’ve already won the league? I don’t know. I think it is so mentally draining being a part of TNS, because of the immense expectations placed on us to win every game and every trophy,’ Harrison said.
‘The week before that we tied up the league title by beating a good Bala team 2-0, then the week before we won 5-0 to reach the JD Welsh Cup Final, so I think subconsciously perhaps we’ve all dropped 5-10%, taken our foot off the pedal and we’ve been punished for that.’
Having experienced high-pressure environments as a player for a Middlesbrough team expected to gain promotion to the Premier League, Harrison is well aware of the difficulty of managing expectations, but spoke of how his playing experience has helped him in his managerial work.
‘It is difficult to keep players motivated and manage expectations, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I played in a very successful Middlesbrough team that won promotion to the Premier League and that is similar to the pressure I have as a manager at TNS.
‘At Middlesbrough I was playing with the likes of Juninho, Paul Gascoigne, Paul Merson, Paul Ince and we were expected to win the league, then I moved to a young Crystal Palace team and we were in danger of being relegated, so I would much rather have the pressure of being expected to win than being expected to lose.’
Big Performances Required
One potential benefit of the recent defeat to Airbus, as mooted by many fans on social media, is that it will serve as a motivational tool for when TNS meet Andy Preece’s men in the final.
TNS’ manager however, opted to place the result into the context of the season, and praised his players for their ability to perform on the big stage.
‘Possibly, it is easier to motivate the players for the final now because of the recent defeat to Airbus, but if you look at the season in the round we’ve beaten them 5-0 and 4-0 before that too.
‘I’m very fortunate to have very good players who, when they’re called upon in the big games, can step up and perform 99% of the time and I’m sure that’ll be the case on the 2nd of May.
‘It is important the lads are concentrated, but I think, with respect to Airbus who have beaten us twice over the last two seasons, we will just be concentrating on ourselves. If we go out there and play our game as we can, then we’re good enough to beat anybody.’