North Wales football has taken some bitter blows on a national level in recent years.
It was not so long ago that Bangor City and Rhyl led the way in the Welsh Premier (now the JD Cymru Premier), winning titles and cups and giving The New Saints and (for a short period) Llanelli a real run for their money.
The two coastal rivals, with a fantastic track record in the Welsh Cup, Europe, WPL and, years earlier, the English pyramid, flew the northern flag with pride.
But things changed….
Rhyl were relegated from the top flight in 2016/17, and Bangor followed the season after, demoted on licensing issues after finishing runners-up to TNS.
Both remain in the second tier.
Other North Wales clubs had shone since the turn of this decade, Prestatyn Town winning the Welsh Cup and starring in Europe, Bala Town the same, while Llandudno and Cefn Druids punched well above their weight in spells in the national league.
Yet despite all that, there was need for a new North Wales club to emerge as a more permanent genuine force.
Enter Connah’s Quay Nomads…..
For so long also-rans in the Welsh Premier, even dropping into the Cymru Alliance for a spell, the most notable achievement for the Deeside club in modern times had been reaching the 1997-98 Welsh Cup final.
Then in came Andy Morrison.
The former Manchester City defender, previously assistant-manager at Airbus, took over at Deeside Stadium in November 2015 and the rest, as they say, is (recent) history.
When he became manager, the Quay were in the WPL relegation zone. Six months later, they had achieved their highest-ever league finish of fourth.
Not only that, they won the end-of-season play-off against Airbus UK Broughton and reached Europe for the first time in their history.
That was an amazing enough achievement in itself, but the 2016-17 Europa League saw the Nomads win their first-ever tie, drawing 0-0 at home to Stabæk of Norway and then winning 1-0 away, becoming only the second-ever WPL club to keep a clean sheet in Europe over two legs.
Although they went out to Serbs Vojvodina in the next round, the following campaign saw the Quay finish runners-up in the Welsh Premier and make it into Europe again.
In the 2017-18 Europa League, Morrison’s marauders pulled off an almost unbelievable 1-0 home win over crack Finnish side HJK Helsinki at Bangor, but went down 3-0 in the away encounter.
The 2017-18 WPL campaign ended with Nomads in third spot,and making history as the club lifted the Welsh Cup for the first time, beating Aberystwyth Town 4-1 in the final.
This time Europa League action would see the North Walians endure a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Shakhtyor Soligorsk of Belarus.
Last season saw Nomads right in touch with record 12-time WPL champions TNS at the end of the first phase. In the second stage of the season the full-timers from Park Hall pulled away with the title, 12 points clear of the Quay, who nonetheless sealed a second runners-up spot.
The campaign had an added bonus – the Irn-Bru Cup (also known as the Scottish Challenge Cup).
This competition saw Nomads really excel themselves, as they won away to Falkirk (1-0), knock out Northern Ireland’s Coleraine (2-0), Queen’s Park (2-1) and then Edinburgh City 5-4 on penalties to become the first Welsh Premier side to reach the final of the competition.
In that final, they led now SPL side Ross County 1-0 before three goals in the last 15 minutes sealed a 3-1 result for the Scottish outfit.
The Quay were not finished in shocking opposition from Scotland yet.
In this season’s Europa League, Morrison’s men lost 2-1 at home to Kilmarnock, third in the SPL in 2018-19, before pulling off a stunning 2-0 victory in the away leg to progress 3-2 on aggregate.
A magnificent feat! Arguably the best ever Welsh Premier performance in Europe.
The next round brought a meeting with Serbian giants Partizan Belgrade which resulted in a 4-0 aggregate defeat, but again the battling Nomads did Wales proud against opponents of a much higher level.
Looking back over Andy Morrison’s less than four years at the helm makes amazing reading.
Two Welsh Premier runners-up finishes, winning the Welsh Cup, finalists in the Irn-Bru Cup and some stunning results in Europe – whatever gap there was needing to be filled to make North Wales football a remaining force, the Deesiders have well and truly done it.
The only drawback is the poor home crowds the Nomads continually attract. They deserve so much better – hopefully their recent successes will lead to an improvement.
The big question now is, can the Nomads go one step further and challenge TNS’ supremacy, which stands at eight successive Welsh Premier titles?
If anyone can do it, a team led by Morrison can.
He has turned Connah’s Quay Nomads from long-time under-achievers into truly fantastic representatives of North Wales and Welsh football as whole.