Date: Tue 29 May 2018

Rawlinson reflects on JDWPL journey as Port Vale beckons

Following an output of perpetual excellence whilst donning The New Saints’ strip in recent years, centre-back Connell Rawlinson recently completed a move across the border as he signed for EFL League Two side Port Vale.

Sitting down to discuss the move with WPL.Cymru recently, Rawlinson reflected on the highlights of his time in Wales’ premier division and spoke of his high hopes for the JDWPL in years to come.

"For me, it has been my dream to go back into the English Football League and compete at that level, but I’ve been totally focussed on getting the job done and putting in a high level of performances at TNS until now.

"Making sure we won every game we could, winning JD Welsh Premier League titles, cups, and qualifying for those very special games in Europe every summer, that has been my only focus, and I’ve never looked beyond that really.

"If you focus on those short-term goals, and put everything in to delivering those, I think the rest takes care of itself and that’s proven to be the case with this move. It was a huge honour and pleasure to play for TNS over the last eight seasons, I’ve met some great people who I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life, but now I’m really looking forward to this new challenge with Port Vale."

’I’ve had a great time in this league, and I’m really looking forward to the next challenge.’

There has been no shortage of accomplishments for the Wrexham-born 26-year-old during his time at Saints, as he has racked up numerous personal accolades and plaudits as well as been a part of hugely successful campaigns with the champions.

Rawlinson has racked up over a dozen UEFA Champions League appearances, too, and just this season he has captained the Welsh C International side, as well as winning another League and League Cup double, but what were the centre-back’s personal highlights?

"Breaking a World Record was obviously incredible, collectively for the team and for the league I think that was a very nice moment, as well as winning the league and cups quite a few times, but the highlight for me will always be the Champions League experiences.

"Every single appearance I’ve made in the competition has been incredibly special, getting to walk out in front of those crowds, the buzz and excitement of it all, that will really stand out for me among the many highlights from my time at Park Hall.

"Captaining the Welsh C International side will stay with me forever, and I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Jonah for giving me the armband and giving me that extra motivation to push on at the end of the season and do everything I could to secure this move, so I’ve got a huge amount of gratitude for him and what he’s done for me.

"It has been a really good year for me, a great time in this league on the whole, and I’m really looking forward to the next challenge."

’The League has developed massively.’

At the heart of a title-winning team for a number of seasons, Rawlinson has competed against and alongside the best the top flight has had to offer for years and has seen the division develop massively throughout that time.

This past season was perhaps the most competitive the JDWPL has ever been, and the defender played a key role as Scott Ruscoe won his first title as Saints manager, and he commented on how much he has seen the league grow and progress during his time at the club.

"I think to see how much the league is developing you’ve just got to look at how our top teams are performing in Europe now, as year in, year out, our teams are competing well against tough sides from all over the place, whether that be in Europa League or Champions League games that we’ve been in.

"There used to be gaps between sides in the table a few years ago, but now they’re closing as teams are getting better and the standards are getting higher, with the last few years in particular being very competitive.

"The JD Welsh Premier League has developed massively, I’ve really enjoyed every minute of playing in it, and I think any young players from the EFL who might be looking for regular playing experience and want to see what it is like in the men’s game, it is definitely the right place for people to go.

"Teams play the right way, there are so many great coaches in the league who all do their badges through the Welsh set-up and the league is only going to get better and better as the years go on, and with our teams all continuing to improve in Europe, that’ll attract even better players and the standard is just going to keep climbing.

"A lot of players over the last few years have moved to EFL or National League level, and I think that shows just how much people are starting to look at the league for players. Henry Jones and Rhys Healey are just two who have made big moves in recent years, and I’m really looking forward to climbing the divisions with my new club, Port Vale.

"There are so many young prospects and talents in this league that National League and EFL clubs are going to be looking at, and there are so many great youth set-ups around JD Welsh Premier League clubs at the moment, so no doubt there’ll be more and more clubs looking at the talent being produced at this level."

’If it wasn’t for The JDWPL, I wouldn’t be getting this opportunity.’

The move to Vale Park to play for Neil Aspin will be a fantastic opportunity for someone who has been a star in the JDWPL in recent years, but how much will he miss plying his trade in Wales?

"I’ll definitely be keeping in touch with everyone at The New Saints, I’ll be at the home leg for their Champions League game, definitely, and I’ll always keep in touch with everyone from the club, the lads I’ve played with and against, all of the managers, I’ll still be keeping an eye on everything, without a doubt.

"If it wasn’t for the League, I wouldn’t be getting my move to the EFL now. TNS took me in as an 18-year-old and obviously I’ve put in a lot of hard graft behind the scenes to get this opportunity but without TNS and this league I wouldn’t have this opportunity in front of me, so I’m very, very thankful.

"Of course I’ll miss it, it has been a huge part of my life and the biggest part of my playing career so far, I’ve got lads there that I’ve known for nearly a decade, so I’ll miss the lads, the banter, the atmosphere, but I’m really looking forward to a new challenge, a new group of lads, a new manager, new ideas, and I need this new challenge in my career which has come at the perfect time."

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