Friday, 11 July 2014

All Wales Sport Awards 2013/14

Last season here at All Wales Sport we came up with an idea of producing awards for the community side of the game, to look back at some of the moments and people that have contributed to Welsh sport and helped to make it another record breaking season for our site.

12 months is a long time in sport and both Welsh rugby and football have gone through their fair share of ups and downs over the past year.
I did initially write well over 2000 words for this piece but realised that it had turned into a pretty negative review by the end of it on the state in which Welsh Rugby currently finds itself. I wanted to focus on the positives and the clubs, people and stories that impacted positively on Welsh Sport, but it would also be remiss to leave out the general malaise that surrounds the game of rugby in Wales so I’ve done my best to be to the point.
Well! Where to start in the case of Welsh Rugby? To say it has been a tumultuous time would be the understatement of the century. There have been press releases, counter press releases, the return of David Moffett, an EGM and yet, after all the ‘meetings’ and ‘positive discussions’, the WRU and Regional Rugby Wales are still to come to an agreement. Couple this with the growing number of grassroot clubs who are currently fighting for their very survival and it’s pretty hard to find the silver lining to the Welsh rugby cloud.
This time last year, however, Welsh rugby at International level was riding on a wave of euphoria generated by the successful Lions Tour of Australia. There were ten Welsh players in the final test match, including the player of the series in Leigh Halfpenny, while who can forget George North’s fireman’s lift of opposite number Israel Folau - a tackle that will definitely reign as one of the most iconic moments in Lions history?
But 12 months on and Wales yet again suffered heartbreak at the hands of a Southern Hemisphere side, losing out in the most dramatic of ways in the Second Test to South Africa. Yes, the players performed brilliantly for 75 minutes but any top team should not have lost the match from their position.
This on the back of a relatively disappointing Six Nations and Autumn Series, and with no regions making the knock-out stages of tournaments either domestically or on the European stage, it really does make for dismal reading.
I have read, written, watched and taken part in many debates on Welsh rugby and the only consensus is that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but I firmly believe that if the grassroots continue to be starved of resources and funding then it will ultimately be to the detriment of all involved. Lest we forget that the Leigh Halfpennys and Sam Warburtons of this world all started playing rugby at club level.
Despite this, there have been positives at semi-professional level: Pontypridd produced another outstanding season, clinching the ‘double double’, while their heroics in the British and Irish Cup was a superb statement of intent from the Club.
At the other end of the Premiership, another team with a great heritage created history for all the wrong reasons as Swansea were relegated to the Championship, while Ebbw Vale made a long overdue return to the top flight of semi-pro rugby in Wales.
In the Women’s game, Neath Athletic once again proved they are the leading club in Wales as they secured their own ‘double double’. Meanwhile, the women’s national team had a pretty tough Six Nations and will be up against it at the World Cup in France that kicks off in just a few weeks. But pathways and training are improving all the time for women and girls playing rugby in Wales. However, the WRU still has a long way to go in its equality stakes - where as all Schools, Youth and Club Cup finals were played in the home of Welsh Rugby, the women were once again shipped to Llandovery’s Church Bank for their Finals day. Such blatant disparity is something, I feel, the WRU needs to promptly redress!!
Moving on to the round ball, it wasn’t a stellar year for either Cardiff City or Swansea City in the Premier League, and many Bluebirds fans I have spoken to have been, at times, dismayed by the handling of the club both on and off the field.
Swansea City were not immune to scandal either this season with talk of unrest and players fighting that ultimately led to Michael Laudrup being sacked in an unsavoury fashion. However, interim Manager Garry Monk kept Swansea up and was rewarded with a contract for his efforts.
Newport County, meanwhile, did well in their first season back in the football league and a respectable mid-table finish in the very competitive League Two was a great step back.
 Domestically The New Saints once again reigned supreme, completing a League and Cup double. Airbus were TNS’ closest rivals but they were 14 points adrift of the Oswestry based team in the final standings, while Aberystwyth pushed TNS all the way in the Welsh Cup final.
Elsewhere, Afan Lido were relegated from Wales’ top flight, with Cymru Alliance champions Cefn Druids replacing the Aberavon outfit in the Premier Division. 
There is no trophy for this award but last year we gave credit to the best welcome or experience at a ground.
Being based in Swansea, I generally don’t travel further east than the Brewery Field so it would be unfair to choose from only a handful of Premiership clubs for this, but for me West is generally best. I have once again had many a warm welcome at both Carmarthen Quins and Llanelli RFC, and I would like to give a special mention to Ian ‘Sooty’ Davies, the Matchday Officer at Llanelli, who is always exceptionally helpful.
There have been some truly performances from teams up and down Wales this season but there is one Club who, with their conduct on and off the field, has bagged them the All Wales Sport Rugby Club of the year.
In their 125th year they went unbeaten throughout their successful One West League campaign, they clinched the prestigious Silver Ball Trophy and made it to the semi-finals of the Swalec Plate. I have seen a number of their matches this year and having met and chatted to its supporters and volunteers who help run the outfit, I believe they are a club truly deserving of the award.
What can really be said about the year Barry Town have endured? This time last year it was feasible they could have been playing Parks football but the volunteers and supporters took on the FAW and won, and not only that, they then defied the odds and clinched the Welsh League Division Three crown. One of the most successful clubs in the League of Wales’ history now looks like it is in the right hands and moving back to where the club belongs.
All Wales Sport Community Awards
Here at All Wales Sport, we pride ourselves on giving grassroots sport the coverage it deserves, and collecting and correlating the weekend rugby and football scores is a mammoth task.
Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the various club officials and volunteers that help make our lives a little easier, with a couple of individuals in particular given some notable recognition that they more than deserve:
Every Saturday, accurately tracking down scores, scorers and try counts can be a rather time consuming task as you could imagine, but there are countless clubs out there that e-mail, ring, text and tweet their results through that help make the process that little bit smoother.
For the award of best club contact, we took into consideration the following criteria: most reliable (that includes sending in results even after a loss); knowledge of the game you have just seen (scorers, try count, any incidents); and last but by no means least, a bit of banter. We put our heads together in the office and came up with a shortlist of candidates: John Humphreys (Rhiwbina), Paul Lewis (Merthyr), Rich Mainwaring (Pontrhydyfen), Jeff Skidmore (Loughor), Brian Morgan (Glynneath), Martin Ham (Mountain Ash).
Best Club Contact Paul Lewis (Merthyr RFC)
 Last year we had an award for best match report but with so many clubs now producing previews, match reports and newsletters we’ve updated the award to include all those titbits with a whole new one for Club Correspondent. I spend a lot of my life scouring club websites for news not just for the blog, but for articles I write in the general press, and the dedication and commitment a number of these correspondents put in is commendable. The list of candidates are: John Humphreys (Rhiwbina), Neil Evans (Llantwit Major), Paul Lewis (Merthyr), Martin Harvey (Llandrindod Wells).
Club Correspondent 2013/14 Neil Evans (Llantwit Major RFC)
This year we would once again like to thank amateur and professional photographers who continue to send us wonderful snaps that really do add so much to our blogs. Here is a list of photographers and Clubs that have helped us out this season: Garry Smith (AlfiePics); Clubs (Merthyr), (Rhiwbina), (Cefn Fforest).

Ystradgynlais picked up Best Club Twitter account last year but they won’t be retaining their crown - that honour goes to Amman United this season. Amman have combined wit with useful club news and, for me, their most memorable tweet for myself and colleagues was this little gem.. “No Mother's Day gift inspiration? Why not treat her early to a cheeseburger and can of Bow whilst watching the Amman play Skewen on Saturday.”
We now come to another new award, that of Best Social Media Club, and the crown goes to Ystradgynlais. The Swansea Valley Club have really kicked on since claiming the Best Twitter account last year. Their website is up-to-date and has opinion pieces and reports, while their Twitter and Facebook pages are engaging. What I like about them is that they are always looking at ways to innovate how they interact via social media and I honestly think some of the ‘bigger’ Clubs could look at the way Ystradgynlais conduct themselves over social media.
The final award is the All Wales Sports Special Recognition Award, which goes to someone who has committed time and effort to helping their club, as well as showing real passion for grassroots rugby in Wales and at the same time made our job at All Wales Sport that much easier. The award this year goes to Rhiwbina’s John Humphreys. The press officer for the Squirrels has not only supplied club news, reports, and photos to us on a weekly basis but has also kept us up-to-date with any League news.
Winner: John Humphreys (Rhiwbina RFC)
Finally, All Wales Sport would also like to thank the following football league secretaries for all their hard work and dedication over the past season. Their help and support has once again ensured that AWS had another record breaking year!
Geraint Davies (Ceredigion)
Colin Jenkins (Carmarthenshire)
Glyn Jones (Gwent)
Alan Jones (Merthyr)
Paul Worts (Mid Wales)
Bob Smith (Neath)
Brian Hawkins (Pembrokeshire)
Geoff Cadwallader (Swansea)
Des Edwards ('live updates' from all the Cup Finals Swansea)


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