Football comment: Some of Wales’ brightest young footballers went head-to-head in a classic relegation dog-fight this week, as the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Premier South league drew to a dramatic conclusion.
With January exams now out of the way, the players and coaches at both Swansea and Glamorgan universities have been free to spend the last week fighting to stay in a highly competitive six-team top flight.
Not only did both sides need to turn around a run of poor form but the heavy snow had created an unhelpful fixture backlog.
In a gruelling schedule, Swansea were forced to complete their three remaining fixtures in just five days this week — that’s almost one-third of the league’s entire 10 fixtures.
If Swansea’s task wasn’t difficult enough, they were up against players whose sole purpose at university was to play elite level sport and boasted the support of back-room teams that would be the envy of many Football League sides.
So it wasn’t a total surprise when, last Wednesday, the plucky Swansea side went down to a heavy 4-1 home defeat to the stars of the Hartpury College football academy, who have won the top division for the past six seasons.
The Green and Whites were handed some hope, however, when relegation rivals and next opponents Bath University also suffered a 4-1 home reverse against the University of Chichester.
But when the two teams met on Friday, a Bath team packed full of semi-professional players and former England age-grade players dragged themselves to safety with a 2-0 win over their Welsh visitors.
That set up a mouth-watering winner-stays-up Welsh derby on Monday between Swansea and Glamorgan, which ended in a 5-0 win for Glamorgan.
Swansea captain George Parsons told the Star: “We were really up for it and in the first half we were brilliant, it was probably one of our best performances of the season.”
Despite being a goal down at the break, Parsons was confident his side could claw themselves back into the game and condemn Glamorgan to the drop.
“We were the better team, had the majority of possession and had the best chances,” he said.
But then disaster struck as Swansea conceded a “sloppy second goal and all our heads went down.
“Then the goals started to flood in and we lost 5-0 unfortunately,” Parsons added.
Unlike the league’s other teams, Swansea have no paid coaches but have still managed to move from training once a week to two or three times a week.
Seeing that hard work on the training field undone in just five days must be hard to take, especially for a side that fought for three seasons to get into the top Premier South division of the BUCS league.
Reflecting on a challenging week, Parsons said: “I don’t think we really gelled together as a squad in the last two games, which is a bit of a shame because as individuals we’ve got one of the best squads in the league.”
But the captain is determined to lead his side back to the Premier South before he graduates.
“The boys have all got the heart to respond positively and get promotion straight back up,” he said.
His Swansea side will do battle with fierce rivals Cardiff next season for the right to rejoin Glamorgan in the top flight.
Both sides have a chance to set out their intentions for next season, cheered on by hundreds of student supporters, in the annual showpiece Welsh varsity clash on April 24.
University football seasons might be short and brutal, but they certainly pack in the action.
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