The first steps in the long journey towards 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying were taken last week as the Cymru squad were reunited for an international training camp.
Following the departure of manager Jayne Ludlow, FAW Technical Director David Adams was joined by Matty Jones and Loren Dykes for the training camp that marked the start of a new era for the team. Since her appointment in October 2014, a number of the current Cymru squad were handed their debut by Ludlow, and this was their first experience of an international camp without the manager.
“It's been a weird one,” explained midfielder Anna Filbey, one of the players brought into the international setup by Ludlow. “But we have to try and move on. Jayne was massive for us so it's a big loss really, and it was gutting for me personally as it was Jayne who gave me my debut. I only have good things to say about her and I would like to thank her for giving me that opportunity. I've learnt so much from her as she taught me so much. She's built a great foundation for us and for the next manager.”
Cymru narrowly failed to qualify for UEFA Women's EURO 2022, and for international veterans like Natasha Harding, there was an added anger and frustration over the implications of the campaign. “We were disappointed and devastated not to qualify, but if anything, it's motivated us for the next one,” she explained to the media last week. “We've got a great chance and this is the best group we've had, and will have, for a number of years. The older ones are hitting their prime and playing their best football, and the players coming through are really exciting.”
Named Cymru vice-captain following Ludlow's appointment, Harding was a key player throughout the manager's tenure. “We were shocked, sad and angry initially,” she added when asked about the reaction to her departure. “She's our manager and you don't want anything to affect the group. You ask yourself if you could have done more, and if we had qualified, would she still be in the job? We're angry at ourselves and we have to take a lot of the blame and responsibility for not qualifying. Jayne made me vice-captain and I will always be forever grateful for that.
“This week has been a week for us to talk about Jayne and the positive things that she did for us. I think it was very important to have this camp to move forward and have that space to talk about it, which is an important part of closure. Nothing bad has happened, but for us as a group to move on we needed that space to do so. The coaches that have come in understood that and gave us that space to talk about it. After this camp, it will be put in a box, and we will move forward to build on the work that she has done. We're professional enough to do that.”
Hayley Ladd has been in excellent form for Manchester United in the Women's Super League this season, and also established herself as a pivotal part of Ludlow's Cymru side with her versatility to play in midfield and defence. “We're hugely indebted to Jayne for her work over the last six years,” she explained. “Some of us have been there through that whole time, and we will look back on that time with fond memories. We had a great time with Jayne as manager.”
Ludlow guided Cymru through three qualifying campaigns, and significant progress was made as the side continued to move closer and closer to reaching the finals of a major tournament for the first time. Pushing leading nations like England and Norway in recent years was testament to the work that was being done on and off the field, while the number of players who progressed through the intermediate ranks offers hope that there is still a bright future for this team.
“It's been a really positive week,” said Ladd. “It's been a while since a lot of us have seen each other so it's been good to touch base. It's been good to get together with the pressure off as there's no game, so we're just preparing ourselves for the next journey. It's a crucial time now for us but a positive time as well. We know what it takes, and we've got that experience now to get to where we want to go.”