The success of Ynys Môn’s ladies football team at the 2019 Inter-Island Games served as a timely boost for the women’s game in North Wales.
In four previous tournaments, Anglesey’s females had been victorious in just one of their 14 matches, but they were a different proposition on home soil as they made it all the way to the final where only a strong Isle of Man side was able to stop them.
The 2018-19 season otherwise had few highlights for North Wales women’s football.
In the Welsh Premier League, Llandudno finished sixth, some distance off the top five, Rhyl ended up bottom and only avoided relegation because no North Wales team applied for promotion and Caernarfon Town did not last the season.
While the newly-appointed officials of the revamped North Wales Women’s League did their level best to ensure things ran smoothly after the previous season’s Rhyl Development saga, everything finished in shambolic fashion.
Still, the winners of Division One have not been crowned. The latest news is the North East Wales FA have awarded Llanfair United a 3-0 win over Kinmel Bay, who decided not to fulfill the final fixture in Powys as they wanted to end their season early.
This puts Bethel and Llanfair level on points and goal difference. Bethel have scored the most goals, but that factor does not come into being under the current league rule book, which is poised to change drastically next season.
The matter now returns to the NWWFL, who must decide on either a shared championship or some other way of settling the title battle.
In the meantime, Llanfair still have the option of appealing against the NEWFA’s 3-0 award (granted as per FIFA rules).
This farce could have been avoided if every team had been committed to finishing the season by the May 31 deadline.
Division Two was also not without its problems, Bethesda Athletic storming to the title with 10 straight wins before announcing they did not have enough players for their final two matches.
One of those games was against Wrexham, who needed to win it to clinch second place and promotion and did so by default in the end (via a 2-0 concession).
And the “icing on the cake” was one Supplementary Cup Final not being played as one of the participants could not raise a team. A cup final and one team unable to get together a side? A first for football?
Amidst the gloom, Penrhyn Bay Under-16s‘ fantastic quadruple, which included the Welsh Cup, was a real highlight for North Wales, with numerous other girls teams doing the area proud too.
On the international scene, chances of our girls making Wales squads remained pretty much remote as ever, Elise Hughes’ breakthrough into the senior side being the chief highpoint.
So all in all, the female game in North Wales needed a lift.
Enter Ynys Môn…….
There was definitely a good feeling about the squad Karen Williams chose for the six-island Anglesey-based tournament.
A nice balance of experience and youth was selected, and the tournament got off to a great start for Môn with a 3-1 win over Western Isles, Amlwch Town’s Lexi Crawley grabbing a memorable hat-trick.
Crawley entered the Games as an in-form player, having finished second highest scorer in NWWFL Division Two last season, so it was no surprise to see her shine.
Despite losing their second group game 3-2 to Hitra, Crawley and Jordanne Greenough with late goals to almost snatch a point for the hosts, Anglesey finished top of the standings on goal difference, thanks to the Western Isles perhaps unexpectedly seeing off Hitra 1-0.
The semi-final was something special for Ynys Môn as they overcame a fine Jersey outfit 1-0, Crawley with a stunning decider to make it five goals in three matches.
Based on form during the competition, the Isle of Man probably entered the final against Ynys Môn last Friday at Holyhead as marginal favourites.
Trailing 2-0 at half time, Anglesey again displayed tremendous spirit to fight back, score through 16-year-old newcomer Catrin Evans, and lose just 2-1 in the end to the Manx.
It was testament to how well Môn had done that they ended up disappointed to lose a final having never achieved any progress in the Island Games before.
Tournament top markswoman Crawley was carrying an injury going into the final and was never quite at her sharpest. Had she been 100%, who knows?
One of the key areas where Ynys Môn looked strong was defence.
They could hardly have been in better hands in the shape of veteran Wales international goalkeeper Nicky Davies, but the likes of skipper Laura Eynon, Carol Lewis, Sara Furlong and Paige Williams formed a very solid rearguard.
The experience of Cerys Gadd and Ffion Owen in the midfield really boosted the team and in attack, the outstanding Crawley benefited from the likes of exciting newcomer Catrin Evans and Ceri Slaney on the flanks, as well as the all-action contributions of Jordanne Greenough. The young substitutes also displayed plenty of promise.
While the men attracted major headlines – and rightly so – for winning their tournament, it is fair to say they were perhaps expected to fare better than the women at the Games.
As it was, the ladies so nearly matched them and can feel proud of not just what they did for the island, but for North Wales football too.