There’s just over a week to go until the second tier of Welsh football finally ends its COVID-enforced break and returns to competitive action.
The new Cymru North season won’t begin until January – but fortunately for Bangor City, Holyhead Hotspur and Llangefni Town, the restart will come sooner.
It starts with the opening round of the Nathaniel MG Cup during the second weekend of December.
Cymru Premier teams, including Caernarfon and Bala, have all been given a bye into round two.
In the North, last season’s Welsh Alliance champions Holyhead Hotspur mark their return to the second domestic tier with a home clash against Llandudno.
That game will also mark Sean Eardley’s managerial debut for Dudno, following his departure from the Canaries in June.
Llangefni start with a trip to Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, while at Nantporth, Gresford Athletic are City’s first round opponents.
The rest of the Northern draw includes:
Buckley Town v Colwyn Bay
Conwy Borough v Ruthin Town
Holywell Town v Llanidloes Town
But the biggest talking point surrounding this year’s competition is the contentious choice of the two ‘wildcard’ entries.
Both Cardiff City and Newport County will field teams in the southern section of the cup – with the Bluebirds drawn at home to Taffs Well in the first round while the Exiles face Undy Athletic in a local derby.
Whether they’ll be seen as taking one of the key competitions of Welsh domestic football seriously is open to question. It’s a decision that has already rankled some quarters – and if either EFL club went onto win it, they wouldn’t qualify for the Scottish Challenge Cup.
Ties will be played on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th December.
Cup matters aside, what awaits the Cymru North clubs when the league campaign begins?
FAW officials confirmed a January start on Monday – but also a shortened season from the norm.
Each team will play fifteen matches rather than 30 – with the eight home fixtures to be determined by a random draw.
Potential promotion to the Cymru Premier and relegation to the new Ardal League will take place – but alas, the Welsh Government is still ruling out a return for fans.
Ardal League teams, including Porthmadog (who were relegated last season), Nantlle Vale and Y Felinheli, are also eligible – but whether or not their season can start will depend on a forensic review of how the Cymru North proceeds with its return.
The earliest that Tier 3 clubs can expect a decision on where they figure in the FAW’s ‘Return to Play’ project will be next month.