James Kirkwood: “My only aim is to enjoy my football”
In a season of turmoil, where promotion is the only aim, not many managers would put their trust in an 18 year-old goalkeeper to be the heart of their success.
However, three years later Ammanford’s James Kirkwood is repaying the trust placed in him by manager Gruff Harrison with quality performances.
At the tender age of just 18 years old, with the club forced to play catch-up after their relegation to Division Three was contested, Kirkwood was the man between the sticks when the boys in black and white finally stepped onto the field.
On October 25th 2014, Ammanford defeated Newport YMCA 11-0 away from home. Whilst the scoreline may suggest Kirkwood was a bystander in such a game, it was a sign that the young shot-stopper was confident and assured in being the last line of defence. Quietly, yet quickly, he was developing a reputation as one of the hottest prospects in South Wales.
However, Kirkwood has emphasised how important it was for him to repay the club and his own career with some success.
“I think it was important for me to achieve something with the club, not only because it will always be a lasting memory, but also because as a player I’ve never had a lot of success. Having reached cup finals as a junior and always falling at the final hurdle, it was nice to finally feel a sense of success with the club for the first time, and it was a great feeling achieving it at such a young age.”
But after the promotion winning campaign with the club, the goalkeeper left for pastures new and furthered his development at Welsh Premier League outfit Carmarthen Town. Whilst the tough, hard hitting teams of Division Three like Bettws, would have no doubt tested his physical prowess, coming up and enhancing his ability in the Welsh Premier League served as a yet of his mentality.
“Being a reserve goalkeeper in the Welsh premier league was a very important season in my career. I believe that I learnt a great deal in terms of mental toughness and mentality. I was very raw going there, but training at that level with those players helped me learn how important it is not to let certain things affect me whilst playing.”
And whilst he was number two for the season at Richmond Park, being an understudy to one of the Welsh Premier League’s finest goalkeepers in Lee Idzi only helped his development, despite the lack of first team playing time.
“Being an understudy to Idz was a real insight as to how a footballer should conduct them self on and off the pitch. In hindsight, I couldn’t have asked for a better role model, as he was and probably still is the rock of that team. And that was shown by him winning managers player of the season that year.”
But, one year being a number two was deemed enough for Kirkwood and returned to the club that offered him his first break in senior football, Ammanford. Despite being their number one goalkeeper in their promotion winning season, and being a local lad, the youngster didn’t envisage that he would automatically regain his place in the side.
“I was a little nervous about returning to Ammanford, as I knew I’d have my work cut out for me to regain my place in the starting team, and I was hoping that I hadn’t lost the chance to be number one by leaving. But Gruff and the squad were great to me when I returned and I think that was a sign for me that I was back where I belong.”
Whilst things haven’t been plain sailing this season for the Carmarthenshire outfit, Harrison has assembled a young side with a bright future. Despite only 21, Kirkwood is somewhat of a senior figure to the up and coming youngsters, but stresses there is a family feel to the squad.
“I think what’s kept me close to Ammanford as a club is how close knit everyone is. I could go through every squad member, manager, or fan and have a good conversation with them. It’s just like one big family really.”
Whilst many 21 year-olds with Welsh Premier League experience already under their belt might have plans of bigger and better things, Kirkwood just wants to keep improving and enjoying his football.
“I do forget that I’m still fairly young sometimes, but being reminded of that just makes me think of how much time I have left to enjoy my football, which is something that I’ve found easier to do this season. I feel like I still have plenty more to give, and I’m sure that if I do, Mark (my keeper coach) will get it out of me, but to be honest, my only aim would be to continue to enjoy my football and make sure that I’m playing the very best that I can.”
And with time on his side, and such a humble and hardworking attitude towards the game, Ammanford and Kirkwood are on the right path for yet more success.