Penybont manager Rhys Griffiths eager to make Cymru Premier mark
Rhys Griffiths has climbed many ladders in his job as a fireman, but is now looking to climb football's managerial ladder.
The 39-year-old leads Penybont in the Cymru Premier on Friday night, as they begin their maiden season in Wales' top tier by hosting Barry Town United.
Barring an injury or suspension crisis at the KYMCO Stadium, the Cymru Premier Hall-of-Famer - who amassed 248 goals in 342 senior appearances - will be focusing solely on management despite still being registered as a player.
Opponents Barry are already up and running, having began their competitive season in June in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League against Cliftonville.
In last season's promotion campaign, Penybont went the Welsh League season unbeaten in Griffiths' second season in charge as player-manager.
Now in his third year of management, Griffiths will take to the top tier as a manager for the first time.
"People keep telling me you know the league inside out, I don't as a manager," said Griffiths.
"I only used to take care of myself and size up me against everyone I was playing against, it's different now.
"I think it's a very competitive league, forgetting the top two there are no teams that are miles better than us."
Having plied his trade for 11 years in the Welsh pyramid system, Griffiths finally earned a move into professional football in 2012 at the age of 32, becoming a full-time professional footballer with Plymouth Argyle, before playing for Newport County.
That required him to put his career as a firefighter on hold, although he returned to the fire service two years later where Griffiths still works, juggling his profession with football management.
While Penybont have thrilled on the field, Griffiths' other job also has fair share of highlights.
"Now as a fireman, I'm about to finish work and I get a call from an old lady who has been on her back all night, so I helped her up, that's a privilege to help people like that, whether it will last forever I don't know," he said.
As a player, Griffiths' goal-scoring prowess in the league with Llanelli once saw him bag more league goals than Golden Shoe winner Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2007/2008 season.
Statistically, Griffiths was Europe's top striker with 40 goals in 31 games but it was Portugal superstar Ronaldo who earned the award that year with Manchester United, due to the points weighting system.
There were no quarrels from Griffiths though, as he instead gained media exposure for his stellar season in front of goal and helped the Reds claim the Welsh title.
"I still don't like him now!" joked Griffiths.
"I knew I had to score double what he did, so I know I could never beat him.
"For a non-league footballer, the more media coverage you get the more you feel like a real footballer.
"I was someone who aspired to play in the Cymru Premier; I didn't aspire to play any higher than that.
"I didn't get loads of offers; I was the type of player that people thought 'I don't fancy him'. I kept proving them wrong and it drove me all the time until eventually someone did."
A new challenge
Injuries and a dip in motivation saw Griffiths reconsider his playing career and in 2016 he started the journey to make the transition into management, moving in to a player-manager role with Penybont.
"I knew I wasn't the same player and I thought that's it for me so I wanted a new challenge," admitted Griffiths.
"The only reason that I would have carried on (playing) would have been the money and chasing Marc Lloyd-Williams' goal record."
In the 27-year history of the Cymru Premier, Marc Lloyd-Williams is the all-time record goal scorer, hitting 319 goals in 468 appearances.
Griffiths is 71 goals behind Lloyd-Williams in second and with his playing days almost at an end he is unlikely to catch the former Porthmadog forward.
Now Griffiths' full attention is guiding Penybont from the dug-out and continuing the footballing journey of a club that only came into existence in 2012, created from a merger between Bridgend Town and Bryntirion Athletic.
"I've got some ownership over the story of Penybont now. I'm part of not only the present but what has happened in the recent past," Griffiths added.
"I'm really proud of the club, I feel as attached to this club, if not more so, than any of my clubs previously because it's my idea.
"I look around and I see the changes and it may not be Old Trafford but things have changed and we've done great over three years."