There is nothing stale about Wales’ oldest club, Cefn Druids, as the 2014/15 season rolls in. After comfortably winning the Cymru Alliance last season, the club appointed John Keegan to mastermind their return to the top-flight following a four-year absence. And the Druids boss has wasted no time in quickly assembling a new-look squad at The Rock…
As Cefn Druids wound up their successful league campaign with a home victory over Buckley Town at the end of last season, the planning for their promotion back into the Welsh Premier League had already tentatively begun.
In the away dugout that afternoon was John Keegan, a coach who had helped steer Buckley away from relegation. Keegan, a well-known ex-player and coach throughout the Cymru Alliance would soon go on to take his first management role with the Druids.
“On the last game of the season, we were actually at Cefn Druids and I was talking to the chairman after the game. At the time I didn’t know [former manager] Huw Griffiths was going to leave because he had never mentioned it to me,” Keegan explained.
“When he left, myself and Chris Herbet applied for the job. We went to an interview on the Friday and we were told on the Saturday morning that we’d had it. It was a very quick process.
“We spoke a lot about the youth at the Club and they were very interested in getting the youth set-up built-up but the priority was the first-team. They asked my opinion on the quality of the first-team, not just to survive in the Welsh Premier but do something a little bit more. I just gave my opinion and the board must’ve liked what they heard.”
In early May, John Keegan replaced Huw Griffiths as Cefn Druids’ new manager and quickly set about rebuilding the entire championship winning squad – a move which he feels with prove beneficial.
“Huw left because he was of the opinion that, given the budget available, what went up wasn’t strong enough.”
“If he felt that the team were strong enough, he wouldn’t have given up the opportunity to manage in the Welsh Premier.
“Don’t get me wrong, Druids did really well last year and were outstanding in the Cymru Alliance. They were a very strong Alliance team but I saw them play Bala Town last year and Bala were on another level, so it was a case of what people we could get in, and you look at the players that have become available and in my opinion, what we’ve brought in is a lot better than what we had,” he said.
A busy off-season followed as the Druids’ recruitment drive saw them become the most active club of the summer in the Welsh Premier League. But with last season’s WPL being at its most competitive since adopting the 12-team format, does Keegan feel he’s taken a gamble in assembling virtually a new squad for the step up?
“It is always a challenge but it would be a challenge if we didn’t get those players in. I think you can look at it from a negative point of view and ask ‘is it going to take time for them to gel?’, but if you’re a good footballer, you’re a good footballer and the game is not rocket science. You need do the simple things well and we know the players we brought in can do these things well. It’s not like their oblivious and they are all coming from the English system and don’t have a clue what they’re coming into.”
Cefn Druids new-look squad features familiar faces from the Welsh Premier League as well as those plucked from the English system.
Well-travelled goalkeeper Dave Roberts, who most recently featured for Prestatyn and Bangor City, has been signed up along with sturdy Aberystwyth defender Peter Hoy and Chris Rimmer, who impressed in central defence for Rhyl last term.
Another Lilywhite favourite, Steve Lewis has already signed and departed the Druids squad after being unable to commit to the club and just this week, the Ancients added two more to their squad in rugged Connah’s Quay forward Lee Healey and central midfielder Lee Fowler, who had a brief spell at TNS last season.
“We’ve been looking at Lee Healey for some time, Bala came in for him but for whatever reason things didn’t work out. Lee Fowler is going to make a difference as he has a lot of experience,” added Keegan.
However, Cefn Druids have arguably made the most intriguing signing of all Welsh Premier League clubs with the arrival of Guinea-Bissau international defender Bruno Fernandes.
The 35-year-old arrives at The Rock after playing several seasons in Portugal, where he featured for reputable side Belenenses. And Keegan was quick to snap up the towering centre-back.
“Someone we know works with a lot of African players getting them clubs and he asked me if I’d be interested in having a look at one of his lads, and from the second he walked in the door, he had a presence about him.”
“He’s a big lad but he’s got a great attitude towards training and it rubs off on the rest of the lads.
“We were made up when we got him. I think we were lucky as if anybody else had seen him before us, we wouldn’t have got him so we had to get him to us as soon as possible. I think he will probably walk into any team at this level and would probably do a job in the Conference, I rate him that highly.”
If Bruno Fernandes is to make an impact in the heart of the Druids defence, Keegan believes he may be able to spring another surprise in the league, with the signings of young striker Dan Griffiths and Northern Irish midfielder Jonathan Breeze.
“We’ve got a couple of good attacking options. We brought Dan Griffiths in who has spend a couple of years at Walsall. He’s an out and out goalscorer, who can score all sorts of different types of goals, and Jonathan Breeze is another good lad who was at Wigan and a Northern Irish youth international, a holding midfielder who dictates a lot of play and doesn’t give the ball away.”
Still despite their signings, Cefn Druids remain at large an unknown and unproven quantity and will face a stiff test in stepping up to the Welsh Premier League, starting off as favourites for the drop.
Starting with opening fixtures against Aberystwyth and Rhyl, Cefn Druids will have to settle quickly into their new surroundings but Keegan is hoping a strong start will quickly ease fears of relegation and see his side fighting further up the table.
“If we stay-up, people outside will say it’s been a successful season but from my point of view if we’re just going into it looking to survive then we are doing an injustice to ourselves. I think with the squad we’ve got, if we click well and get a good start I think we can be a top-six.”
“The bookies don’t lie and have got us odds-on favourites to be relegated but we’re going to be going for top-six.
“The first six or seven games are going to be a massive indicator.”
I’m looking forward to watching to see how Cefn Druids’ fare this season and their campaign will be one of the storylines to follow during the new season.
TNS and Airbus aside, the rest of the WPL looks fiercely competitive once again this year and Cefn Druids return to the league could already be starting to unnerve some current Welsh Premier clubs.