Summer of change at Rhyl; WPL end of season awards

It’s only been 17 days since the last ball of the Welsh Premier League season was kicked and there are already a raft of changes in personnel on and off the pitch across many of the league’s clubs. While the league is awash with talk of rumours and transfer titbits, and Saturday afternoon’s are until August a far duller event, the spring/summer months are the season of uncertainty for chairmen and managers.

I doubt any club has been as busy in the closing weeks of the season as Rhyl after Greg Strong vacated the managerial hot-seat. It’s rare for a manager to depart a club under lavish praise but that was indeed the case when Strong ended his reign at Belle-Vue on a mutual basis.

Strong’s replacement was always going to be an interesting choice as Rhyl can be considered one of the biggest clubs in the Welsh Premier with a reputable history, good support base and thriving community set-up, that would have no doubt attracted a steady stream of applicants from both Wales and the North-West. The Lilywhites finally opted to turn to a familiar face to take them onto the next stage. Step forward ex-player and former Wrexham and Darlington pro Gareth Owen for what is his second managerial post in the WPL (bonus point if you can name the first!).

The decision to appoint Owen came as something as surprise to me with Huw Griffiths unexpectedly departing his post at Bala Town, but the decision has been warmly received by those close to the club and the changes Owen has already made early into his tenure suggest he’s already addressing the side’s biggest weakness last season – scoring goals.

Rhyl’s tally of 41 WPL goals last term was the second-worst total in the league with Aaron Bowen, who missed a large chunk of the season, Carl Lamb (unconvincing) and Jack Kenny (largely limited to substitute appearances) being the squad’s main attacking options.

Owen has moved quickly with Lamb and Kenny departing the club along with talented winger Liam Dawson while Caersws’ John Owen – a player recently tipped by Newtown’s Jonny Drury to break into the WPL – could be a good addition, particularly if he can strike up a good partnership with the exciting Ashley Ruane, who thrived for Rhyl in the second-half of the season, and another new signing Cefn Druids’ midfielder Derek Taylor.

For a club of Rhyl’s size, finishing outside of the top-six can be considered a disappointment and Owen’s objective over the summer will be to improve the squad and break into that ever-competitive second band of clubs who scrap for points as they trail in TNS’s wake. Gareth Owen is certainly no stranger to the Welsh Premier League and it’ll be interesting to see how he fares on his return.

End of season awards
This weekend brings with it the league’s annual awards dinner as the WPL reveals its 2014/15 Manager, Player and Young Player of the Season.

Treble-winning Craig Harrison (TNS), Euro-bound Chris Hughes (Newtown) and WPL runner-up Colin Caton Huw Griffiths (Bala Town) are the managerial nominees, while Tom Field (Airbus UK), Chris Venables (Aberystwyth Town) and Jason Oswell (Newtown) are in competition for the Player of the Season award and Ryan Astles (Rhyl), Sean Miller (Connah’s Quay) and Matty Owen (Newtown) vye for the Young Player’s mantle.

My picks:
Manager of the Season – Under Craig Harrison TNS have won everything domestically they could get his hands on.

Player of the Season – I fully expect Chris Venables to win the award for a second successive year.

Young Player of the Season – This year’s award is hard to call but I think Matty Owen will just pip Sean Miller to the trophy.

I will hopefully catch up with the winner of each award for my next blog and look forward to seeing some familiar faces from around the WPL over the weekend. Get in touch with your views/comments over on Twitter, thanks for reading.

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