James is an ace goalkeeping coach at The Bridge Meadow Stadium

James Devonald goalkeeping coachThe role of a specialist goalkeeping coach is a fairly recent innovation in local football but Haverfordwest County AFC was one of the first to appoint someone tasked with working alongside their keepers and since they started in December 2018 it has been James Devonald who has been in post.
James hails from St Clears and is a EUFA  ‘B’ qualified  goalkeeping coach who also runs his own ‘Sweeper Keeper Goalkeeping Academy’ where he offers one-on-one coaching sessions and is kept very busy in this area of his life – but more of that later.

Busy with The Bluebirds’ Academy and first team

At the moment he is also the ‘Head of Academy Goalkeeping’ at The Bridge Meadow Stadium, working with all the different age groups, and also fulfils his role with the first team, where he works in training sessions and on match days with first team custodians Steve Hall and Wojciech Gajda, plus talented teenager Josh Le-Grice, who plays for the under 19s but is also picking up valuable experience by training with the other two.
“In midweek training my role is to go through a range of specific goalkeeping practices, looking at the technical and tactical sides of things, and games-related scenarios in preparation upcoming fixtures.”

Enjoys being part of a great collective club spirit

“On match days James continues his work with the keepers in the pre-match warm up, going through their training routines to make sure they are ready for action and he is quick to praise the professional approach adopted by them.
It is great to be part of the club because there is so much going on, and despite the Covid 19 problem we are all pulling together – and there is a great rapport with Wayne Jones, Mark Murison and Mickie Ellis, alongside new chairman Rob Edwards, former chairman David Hughes and secretary Julie Le-Grice.
My involvement started after I had put a message out on Twitter that I was looking for work at a club of Welsh League standard – and Tim Hicks, who was then assistant manager, contacted me and arranged a chat with Wayne Jones.
“I went to a training session, did some work there and after a meeting with David and Wayne I began my work at the Bridge Meadow Stadium.”

James Devonald logoOther sport

“Outside of my football I have always been a very keen cricketer after playing at St Clears and Whitland, and for Pembrokeshire at junior level as a wicketkeeper/batsman and then played my first two seasons of senior cricket at Narberth before I moved to Llandyssul and was involved there for about eight seasons in the South Wales League.
Whilst with Whitland we had a smashing Ormond Youth Cup team which was coached by Colin John and had Welsh rugby scrum half Michael Phillips as our opening bowler. I played in the Ormond Youth Cup Final in 1999 as we beat Llangwm but we lost to them a year later – and I remember I had a few runs in both matches at Carew.”

Family matters . . .

He hails from a sporting family and son Connor has just set off for university and has been a keen footballer, playing for FC Carmarthen as a centre half or midfield, alongside some training at Llangwm FC.
James readily admits he is very lucky to have total support from his wife Angharad, whom he describes as ‘his rock’. The pair have three young children in sons Tyler (6), Joey (5), both already keen on sport, whilst their ‘Little Princess’ Ava is three and is already the boss!

Back in junior football with a bit of a disaster . . .

“I started my footballing when I was in goal for St Clears at junior level and when we were in the under 16 team we were thrilled to reach the age-group cup final against a very strong Merlins Bridge team at Monkton Swifts’ ground.
“But it turned into a disaster for me because I was sent off in the first half for bringing down Lee Hudgell in the penalty area and we lost – and I must admit it was a pretty miserable me for a while afterwards!

. . . And gaining good experience at senior level

James Devonald with ball in hands“I set out in senior football with The Saints and then had three seasons with Carmarthen Town Reserves before spending time in the Ceredigion League with Llandyssul alongside my cricket there.      
“I finished my playing days with FC Carmarthen after a spell with Matthew Price at Newcastle Emlyn where I was second goalkeeper to Peter Blain, and then I moved on to coaching after being approached by Jonathan Garcia, who was the academy manager at Carmarthen Town, about helping to coach their young goalkeepers and I took to it straight away.
I was there for 12 months and it was then I decided to start up my new venture which I had been thinking about for a while.” 

‘Sweeper Keeper’ starts out with James at the helm

“I knew there was a real need in our area to provided specialist coaching for would-be goalkeepers, especially in a one-on-one context alongside group coaching sessions.
“I called it the ‘Sweeper Keeper Goalkeeping Academy’ and it took off straight away so that before long I was doing between 20 and 30 weekly sessions, as well as a regular class at the Carmarthen Leisure Centre which was really well attended.

A testing time gaining key qualifications

So how did James set off to qualify as a coach?
“To gain my FAW ‘C’ Licence in goalkeeping I had to attend an intensive four-day course at Park Hall Stadium, the home of the New Saints AFC near Oswestry.
“This major component saw 20 of us there from all over the UK as Paul Mellings and Jack Long were the course tutors. We had long sessions of practical work throughout the day, with the written work undertaken in the evenings.
There were also regular assessments throughout each day and some final tests in both areas upon which our qualification rested so I was mightily shattered physically and mentally at the end – but absolutely delighted to learn that I had qualified!”
It is good to report that James has never been one to rest on his laurels, however, and he is currently working on his EUFA ‘B’ Licence that will also qualify him to coach players in outfield roles!

Goalkeeping drill for James DevonaldAnd finally . . .
So, after last season, where the travel to matches took The Bluebirds up the M4 corridor, James is now geared up to regular visits to North Wales and he is more than ready for that challenge.
“We had an early blip as our home match against Cefn Druids was called off due to an issue with Covid 19 protocols, which was nothing to do with us and not a problem at our end – but we were able to train and the lads put in a great shift in what was a bizarre day for us all.”
Then it was on to the midweek tussle at Cardiff Met and James admits that he thought a share of the spoils was a decent start against a side which had played competitively and won in Aberystwyth last Saturday.
“But now we have our first home match this weekend against a strong Newtown team which is being televised live on ‘Sgorio’ and we go on from there.
“It is a very exciting time for Haverfordwest County AFC and I’m just delighted to be involved in this time.
“I have had great support from Wayne Jones and Mark Murison as respective manager and head of coaching, the players, Rob Edwards and David Hughes, who run the club, Steve Batty and all the coaches within the academy – and I am grateful for my involvement in all that is going on!”