The home team? Bala Town – the European heavyweights. The visitors to Maes Tegid on Sunday evening will be Cardiff Met, contesting their third straight Playoff Final and hoping to take that final step into the Europa League.
We caught up with Andrew Burns, who has been one of the stars for Bala Town in defence this season, to discuss what Sunday’s game means to him.
“I’m made up that we’ve reached the final, of course. We came through a very tough game against Newtown and I think luck was on our side in that match in some respects, but to be in the final is a great way for us to end the year.
“You want to be fighting for things at this time of the season, definitely. You want to have something to play for and for us at the start of the season, achieving European football again was the aim for us – as I’m sure it was for many clubs – and now we’re just one game away from it.
“It’s brilliant for the club to be in this position, it’s brilliant for me on a personal level too to be on the verge of securing European football and a win on Sunday would round off the season very nicely for us all.
“The past few years has been very successful for the club in Europe and it was made clear from the moment I arrived that Europe is what everybody wants and is working towards, so to achieve on that Sunday would be massive. We know we’re in for a tough game, but we’ve got to be ready to go and ready to fight for it.”
It’s make or break for both sides on Sunday evening, as Bala face the prospect of not qualifying for Europe for the first time in a number of years, whereas Met face losing out in a third playoff final in a row.
Games of such magnitude are one of the biggest draws in football, and the 25-year-old Burns makes no bones about how eager they are for kick-off to arrive for Sunday’s game.
“I think everyone knows how important confidence is in this game, and we’re coming in off the back of three good wins, with performances that have probably been up there with the best we’ve managed to produce all season, so we’re raring to go and ready for the challenge.
“We know how good Cardiff Met are, we’ve played them a few times already this year and they’ve had a great second half of the season, so it’ll be a tough game but we’re really looking forward to it.
“Whoever we ended up playing in the final would have been a really tough game, because there’s been very little between all of the sides in the playoffs this season. We know Cardiff Met’s qualities and their threats. They play the right way and we expect a really tough match. We’ve got to win the battle first and then make sure our quality shows through – we’ve got the quality to beat anyone.
“It’s a one-game shootout, it’s down to us now. We know what we’ve got to do and we’re all eager to go – we’d play tomorrow if we could – but we’ll prepare right and get ready for Sunday and hopefully go and get the result.”
It’ll be one of the more frequent comments you’ll have heard from Bala Town Manager Colin Caton this season, noting how people say his team aren’t clicking but they’re still getting results.
The question that remains, then, is how much more is there to come from this side if they’re in a European Playoff final but they’re still not matching the expectations of some? Burns has his say.
“As a group of lads this year we’ve had conversations about not being at the level that we should be in some games. I remember around Christmas time when we played Connah’s Quay at home, we put in the perfect performance and if we came even close to that level every week then not many teams would take points off us, but for one reason or another we haven’t been able to maintain that.
“When you know what a group is capable of and it isn’t always achieving that then it is frustrating, but what’s gone has gone and we can only look forward now – and the fact that we’re still in this position of being one game away from Europe whilst knowing that we still haven’t been as good as we can be week in week out shows how good a group we have here.
“We’ve hit form at the right time, so we won’t be thinking about previous games or anything like that, and at the end of the week hopefully we’ll be in Europe.”
Both sides know European football is at stake, and they know the pressures that face them for one reason or another, but rather than be intimidated by that, Bala’s Burns says this is exactly why he is playing football, to be in situations like this.
“I don’t think there’s more pressure on one team compared to the other. Everyone knows what a massive game it is and what’s at stake. If anything, there’s more pressure on us because our record over the last few years speaks for itself and what we’ve achieved, but that doesn’t give us an automatic right to be there again – we have to earn it, and we will do all we can to do that.
“It’s going to be a high-pressure game, but this is why we play. These are the type of games that we live for and want to play in. Winning a game like this, there’s no better feeling than that at the final whistle, and that’s what we’ll all be thinking about come Sunday.
“To be a part of a side that qualifies for European football would be absolutely huge. Although I played in the Europa League this year, I wasn’t part of the team that got us there, so to contribute to getting there and knowing how much it means to all of the people who work so hard for the football club, it would mean so much to me.
“It’s obvious how much it means to the great people at Bala, so to keep that success going at the club, that’s one thing that I want personally – I don’t want to be part of a squad that doesn’t qualify after so many years of this club achieving that. We’ll be focussing purely on the game and hopefully our quality will show through enough to allow us to get the result.”
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