Welsh Premier League: Caernarfon and Llanelli back in top-flight

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Caernarfon's Craig has European ambitions

The Welsh Premier League begins this weekend with two clubs returning, but with a notable absentee for the first time in the competition's 26-year history.

Bangor City, one of the league's founder members, were demoted after they were denied the domestic licence required to play in the top-flight.

The Citizens start this season in the Cymru Alliance while two clubs make the step up from the second tier leagues.

Caernarfon Town and Llanelli Town make their long awaited returns to the Welsh Premier League on Sunday, having overcome adverse times.

'Itching to get going'

Caernarfon Town assistant manager Richard Davies describes a sense of excitement ahead of their opening game at home in a live S4C game against last season's surprise package Cefn Druids on Sunday.

The Canaries return to the Welsh Premier League after a nine-year absence.

During their time outside the Welsh Premier League the club encountered financial difficulties and suffered another relegation - before rebuilding on and off the field.

"It's been a long pre-season for the lads," said Davies, "they're just itching to get going now."

Caernarfon had come close to being promoted for each of the three seasons prior to last season's Cymru Alliance success.

They were Cymru Alliance runners-up in 2014-15 and although they won the title a year later they were denied promotion to the Welsh Premier League after being denied a domestic licence.

The following season they were beaten to the title by Prestatyn Town before clinching the 2017-18 title by a margin of 29 points under manager Sean Eardley.

Sean Eardley
Caernarfon manger Sean Eardley played for home town club Llandudno after he was forced to retire as a 19-year-old professional at Oldham Athletic because of a rare heart condition

Eardley, the brother of Wales international Neal Eardley, had succeeded Iwan Williams who before leaving for Llandudno had led the Cofis to the Huws Gray Cymru Alliance title in 2016.

Having come so close to being promoted in recent years, Davies says the club is ready for life in Welsh football's top-flight.

"It's always been in the back of our minds and in our plans to go up to the Welsh Premier," Davies told BBC Cymru Fyw.

"In the background things have been going on to make sure when we did step up that we were ready for it."

Caernarfon will not be renewing their rivalry with Gwynedd neighbours Bangor with no traditional Boxing Day and New Years Day derbies this coming season at least.

Davies acknowledges that Bangor's absence will be felt.

"I think the crowds would have been unbelievable and would have been great for Welsh football and the Welsh Premier," said Davies.

"But unfortunately they've gone down and we've come up and it is what it is. They might be back next year but we'll worry about ourselves.

"We've got our own targets. We're not putting too much expectation on ourselves.

"But survival is the first thing and anything over that is a bonus and we'll see what we can do from there. This is where we want to be."

'Where the club should be'

Llanelli were Welsh Premier champions in 2008 and played in Europe on seven occasions but like Caernarfon their return to the top-flight has not been without pain.

The original club was wound up in April 2013 at the High Court in London following a petition presented by HMRC.

Andy Hill
Llanelli boss Andy Hill is a former Wales Under-18 international

Relegation from the Welsh Premier followed at the end of the 2012-13 season and a newly formed Llanelli Town found themselves placed in Welsh Football League Division Three.

But three title wins in the last for seasons have seen Llanelli return to the top tier of Welsh football.

"We're getting back up to where the club should be," Llanelli manager Hill told BBC Wales Sport.

"We've reformed, renamed and built up from the bottom and we're a lot stronger for it.

"The club has learnt a lot from what has happened before so they'll make sure that doesn't happen again.

"This year is all about stability and stabilising in the league and pushing on from there.

"We're not getting ahead of ourselves and our target will be 10th place. That would be regarded as a good season and we could build on that."

Llanelli secured promotion by winning last season's Welsh League Division One title and although they were initially denied a domestic licence were successful on appeal.

But one notable name from last season's title winning team will not be featuring in the Welsh Premier League - former Swansea City and Wrexham striker Lee Trundle.

Jordan Follows of Llanelli celebrates his goal against Dinamo Tiblisi with Antonio Corbisiero
Llanelli were regulars in Europe during their last stint in the Welsh Premier - beating Dinamo Tiblisi in the Europa League in 2011 at Parc y Scarlets.

"The team we had last season was a good team and we've kept everybody bar Trunds, who due to travelling and work commitments couldn't commit to us," Hill said.

"We've strengthened where we needed strengthening and we're looking forward to testing ourselves against the best in Wales."

Hill, who played as a striker for Llanelli, will be assisted by two men with previous Welsh Premier League management experience.

Andy Dyer managed Hill at Neath while brother Simon Dyer was previously manager at Port Talbot Town.

"It's a bit daunting going into it as I've never managed in the league," Hill said.

"That's part of the reason why I've brought Simon and Andy in. Their experience and knowledge will definitely help me and help the club

"I've played in the league and it's come on so much in the time that I haven't been involved but I know that's the league to be in."

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