Eliot Evans played for Wales 'C' in the 2-2 draw with England earlier this year, and the midfielder is now preparing to represent Cardiff Met in the UEFA Europa League as they take on Progrès Niederkorn of Luxembourg in the Preliminary Round.
Progrés Niederkorn v Cardiff Met
UEFA Europa League Preliminary Round
- 18:30 Thursday 27 June
- Differdange, Luxembourg
“It's a trip to the unknown and it's a tough draw,” Evans explained to FAW.cymru recently. “But we'll prepare as well as we always do. It's something to look forward to and it's been a pretty mad month really. We've got a core group of lads who have been here a long time. We've welcomed some new lads who we've helped integrate into the system. We've got good facilities, good coaches and a good spirit in the changing room, and it's easy for new players to slot in to the team.”
Cardiff Met qualified for the UEFA Europa League with a penalty shoot-out victory over Bala Town in the JD Welsh Premier League play-off final. Evans scored the decisive penalty, but having lost the previous two play-off finals, the 27-year old had started to wonder if the chance had passed. “To be honest, when we lost to Druids last season, I thought that was our best opportunity,” he explained. “We knew it was going to be harder this season. Thankfully, we regrouped, and at the end of the day we got the job done. We've been gutted the last two seasons not to make it.”
Christian Edwards has been an integral part of the success achieved by the club following their journey through the Welsh pyramid system, and Evans was keen to highlight the contribution of the manager. “I've worked with Christian for a number of years now and he knows my game inside-out,” he said. “He's been the biggest factor in what we've achieved. His dedication when we were in the lower leagues to what he wanted to do in the long-term has been the key to it all.
“He's come from a professional background and he had to change the mindset of some players when he arrived, but we've got a core group that have been here throughout that time. He knows what it takes to win and play at a higher level. He's set a high standard and he has the motivation to go and better himself and the team every season.”
Having played for Bristol City as a youngster, Evans turned to education on his release, and has been an important player at the club during two spells over the course of the last decade. The unique model means that no players are paid to play, but for Evans, the alternative long-term benefits outweigh the short-term gains. “Of course, it has come into my thinking when you see other players who you think you're as good as, or even better than, and hear about what sort of money they are on,” he explained.
“But that's what's unique about our group. We get our rewards in terms of coaching, the qualifications, degrees, and the help we get academically. For me personally, in the longer-term I will have more academically to support my career, and I'll have more to fall back on after football. If I just played for a club for money, which I could quite easily do, I'm not getting anything that's going to benefit me in the next 20 or 30 years.”
In addition to qualifying for Europe, Cardiff Met also claimed the Nathaniel MG Cup, while Evans' performances were rewarded with another call-up for the Wales 'C' squad for the international against England at Salford. “It was an amazing experience to be selected again,” he added. “It was even more special as we had a few others from Cardiff Met in the squad who managed to start. Representing your country is the pinnacle at every level. This European trip will come close to it, but representing my country has been my proudest moment in football.”
Cardiff Met travel to Luxembourg to take on Progrès Niederkorn in the UEFA Europa League Preliminary Round on 27th June with the return match taking place at the Leckwith Stadium in Cardiff on 4th July.