Holywell Town FC marked St David's Day by becoming the first third-tier side in the Welsh Cup's 127-year history to reach the semis; now they are in sight of a European spot.
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Holywell Town FC have made history in reaching this season's Welsh Cup semi-finals, and player-manager John Haseldin insists they are not done yet.
"The players have been really motivated by the Welsh Cup run, they are a tight-knit group and really work hard," a proud Haseldin told UEFA.com as his side prepare for a semi-final against Aberystwyth Town FC on 5 April. "There's a great team spirit and that has been a key part of the success we have had. The players have been keen to show what quality they have. Some of them can play at a higher level."
The quiet north Wales market town can trace its footballing roots back to 1893, but the club made history on 1 March, on Wales's national day, when Holywell became the first third-tier outfit in the Welsh Cup's 127-year existence to make the last four. Victory at CPD Porthmadog also brought Holywell a second-division scalp after they had beaten top-flight Newtown AFC at home in the last 16. They will have another Premier League side, Aberystwyth, in their sights when the teams meet at neutral Newtown.
"I'm a believer in fate," said Haseldin. "The match against Newtown was originally meant to be played away, but as it was postponed three times the tie was reversed and eventually played at our place. Maybe it was just meant to be our day. However, I think the pivotal moment was in the third round at Llandrindod Wells. We were one down with 15 minutes left and hadn't taken our chances. We finally turned it around to win 3-1 and the celebrations were incredible. We had the belief from that day."
Appointed player-manager in 2012, the 33-year-old Haseldin is happy to spend more time on the sidelines these days as his young charges restore some glory to a club that has endured a particularly lean period. "It has been a collective effort, from the strikers to the defence, everyone has performed as a team and it would be unfair to single out any individual. The players are fully committed to the club, they train twice a week, and myself and the coaching staff do whatever we can to help."
Back in 1962, around 3,000 people crammed into their Halkyn Road home to watch Holywell take on Swansea Town AFC in the Welsh Cup quarter-finals, and in 1992 the team were founder members of the Welsh Premier League before slipping down the divisions. "A small band of committed volunteers have worked hard to build the club back up gradually, despite having no real financial backing, and this cup run has been a great reward for those who work so hard behind the scenes," said Haseldin.
A UEFA Europa League spot is the eventual reward for the Welsh Cup winners, but with The New Saints FC on course for a domestic double, a place in the final could suffice to secure European football. "We have had some banter in the changing room about how many games away from Europe we are," laughed Haseldin. "But I'm sure Aberystwyth will be thinking of Europe more than us. We will do our homework, and prepare properly and professionally. Promotion has been our aim all season, but this cup run has really motivated us."