When Nicki Maggs took over at Ynysygerwn he had a plan to get the Neath League club up through the divisions and into the Welsh League.
Without question there were some raised eyebrows locally, but Maggs took the club through the divisions faster than anyone could have expected.
Having got there, he needed to keep his side there. And the team, currently playing at the Llandarcy Academy of Sports, just managed to keep themselves above the line, with a couple of crucial late results against eventually relegated Cwm Welfare and Caerleon.
For those who watched Ynysygerwn the side maintained their commitment to trying to play passing football right through the season, never seeming to waiver from the belief that that was the way they would achieve the results they needed.
“Survival was definitely the sole aim,” said Maggs talking to Y Clwb Pel Droed. “When I took over the club we’d just avoid relegation to Neath Division Two. When I spoke of getting us to the Welsh League I think some of the committee thought I had landed from Mars! That was five seasons ago, so when we arrived in Welsh League Division Three it was clear the focus would be on survival. We aren’t a club that could suddenly splash the cash – most of the players are paying direct debits to the club to play for us. I think, having avoided the drop, we can now go from strength-to-strength.”
With Swansea involved in their own relegation battle from the English Premier League, Maggs was going through a similar thought process to Paul Clement. Maggs said, “I’d played most of my career in division three, so I knew what the standard would be like and the challenge it ahead. It was about targeting the teams we could pick points up against. Looking back, I’d say we just about managed that.”
There were some tough results at the start of the season, with Maggs’ unit playing a number of the fancied sides early on in the season. There were some rather lopsided scores in that earlier period, but it didn’t concern the manager unduly. “To be honest, nothing really surprised me about the division except for how clinical the strikers had become! Every time we made a mistake we were punished. That’s how it went early on.
“I always wanted the team to play football, though, and that’s what we kept at. As we got the fitness levels right and got used to the opponents then things got better. We were able to get on a run in the autumn, including winning some cup games where the pressure was maybe off a little bit. However, then we had a cup defeat to Llanelli and a big gap over Christmas and that impacted what we’d built up.”
At the turn of the year Maggs’ side went on another bad run, slipping from a position in mid-table every closer to the dreaded dotted line. Were there ever any doubts in the manager’s mind? “We just trusted the players to come good when we needed them,” said Maggs. “We went on a run of six or seven defeats, but we always trusted them. We won our derby with Trefelin 2-0, but we couldn’t follow that up. It was a real scrap at the end to get the points we needed.
“At 2-0 down away at Cwm Welfare for a moment I did wonder if we’d blown it, but we’re such a tight knit group and the lads kept going and got themselves back into the game. Once we got a goal, it all changed and that was a big point.”
Having kept his side up, Maggs is now looking to take the next step. “Looking back we needed a better start to the season. I think we’ve got the fitness right, but we need to be more clinical. If we can get better in front of goal I’d say we can get into the top ten next season.”
Lofty aims for a side that half a decade ago was struggling in the Neath Leagues, but those committee members who thought he was from Mars probably aren’t doubting his ambition now.