Cambrian and Clydach – a hot bed for young Welsh talent?
Rhondda Cynon Taff is perhaps not the first place many would think of when it comes to footballing hotbeds, even in Wales.
But in this traditional rugby stronghold, the volunteers of Cambrian and Clydach are quietly moulding what could be the most exciting batch of players to come from the region for many years.
When it comes to development sides, few are looking quite as good as Cambrian, with last Sunday seeing them retain the WPL Development South title by romping to a 6-0 win over Carmarthen, just a week after the team booked its place in the FAW Youth Cup final with a similarly resounding 7-1 win over Llandudno.
The significance of a first ever cup final appearance should not be downplayed, but such success will come as little surprise to those in the know, many of whom have watched this group of players regularly sweep aside whatever youth side has been placed in front of it over the last 12 months.
After all, this is an academy with a strong pedigree, helping to elevate the careers of around 30 players over the course of the last eight years – the most recent being Connor Young, who followed in the footsteps of his father Scott by signing a professional contract at Cardiff City earlier this year.
But a trip to the Cardiff City Stadium to face Youth Cup specialists and Welsh football giants Swansea City will undoubtedly be the biggest test yet for Cambrian’s young upstarts, with the Swans looking to lift the trophy for an eighth straight year.
Not that academy director and head of youth development Gareth Evans is worried about his players wilting from the challenge.
To Evans, this is not just an opportunity for this tiny club to make a statement, it is the ideal chance to catch the eye of scouts further up the footballing food chain, which ironically will include those at Swansea.
“I don’t think they’re daunted,” he said. “It’s not something they do often in coming up against such quality, but I’m sure they’ll want to go out there and show they’re good enough to progress to that next level, which is beyond Cambrian.
“That’s always the next step we aim for as an academy. We want them to come in and we want them to progress to the Cardiff Citys and Swansea Citys out there and we’ve succeeded in that.”
But despite boasting strong links with much bigger clubs, Cambrian still has a fiercely strong philosophy and identity, which shows little sign of eroding away any time soon.
“We’re the only academy in the area and we focus on the area we’re in. One or two might come from Cardiff but other than that it’s RCT boys in an RCT academy developing RCT players.
“It’s sort of a testament to the players we have and we’ve been able to nurture a lot of them. Some of the players are coming into their eighth season with the academy and our style of play has allowed us to blossom in the last three years.
“Everyone involved with the academy is really proud with what we’ve achieved. Obviously it’s taken a bit of luck to get there, but also a lot of quality on the field as well.”
That success has not happened overnight. Indeed, results for the academy’s younger sides have largely flattered to deceive.
But, as Evans explains, the academy’s philosophy aims to ensure young players think about the future, rather than what’s in front of them.
“I think our success largely comes down to the idea that results largely don’t matter to us, particularly when it comes to younger age groups.
“So you don’t usually see us in academy finals when it comes to 12s and 14s.
“But once we get to 16s and further on, because of the hours and years of work that we’ve put in, players begin to show their technical ability.
“They [our players] catch up physically and they are able to compete with players that were previously bigger and stronger than them in the past.”
Those same young men are unsurprisingly having a sizeable impact on Cambrian and Clydach’s senior side, who after working their way up the leagues are looking a good bet to establish themselves in Welsh League Division One.
The last two years has seen 14 members of the club’s development squad turn out for the first team, who this year have tested themselves against some of the biggest names in Welsh football, including Barry Town United and Port Talbot Town.
But the passion for player development is still never far away.
“The good thing about Craig (first team manager) is that he respects the youth team structure that we have.
“He was kind enough to rest lads that were going to be involved with the Youth Cup semi-final, making sure there were no injuries.
“With us for most of the year, if youth players are involved in the first team that is what becomes the priority and we’ll arrange the youth team around that.”
It’s hard to imagine the likes of Manchester United or Liverpool resting players in such a way, but toppling Swansea City in the capital on April 23 would undeniably send out one hell of a ripple through the Welsh footballing landscape.