Daniel Harding is catching the eye with Haverfordwest County Youth and Bill Carne met up with the talented young full back for a chat . . .
Haverfordwest County Youth team has played really well all season and received due reward by reaching the final of the McWhirter Cup – and no-one has been more delighted by that fact than Daniel Harding, who is 17 years old and playing at right back for the Young Bluebirds.
It is fitting reward for a lot of hard work in training under coaches Steve Batty and Colin Fawcett and a willingness to build on his skills base and fitness that has seen him slot nicely into a back four that also includes Spencer Williams, Gwion Howell and Ryan Mansell.
Dan was thrilled when he turned up for the semi-final and learned that his name was on the team sheet against Cambrian and Clydach and he certainly caught the eye in the first half as he covered really well at the back, was a willing distributor of the ball and pushed forward in support of the front runners Liam Fawcett and Laurie Haworth. They had already lost 3-1 on the artificial pitch at Cambrian and Clydach but good goals by Jack Britton and Liam Fawcett saw them deservedly reach the final with a 2-0 win.
He was replaced for the second half because he felt he had run out of steam a little – and small wonder because he had played rugby on the Friday evening for Haverfordwest Youth, turned out for Broad Haven first team in Division Three of the Pembrokeshire League the next day and then on Sunday faced Cambrian and Clydach!
Yet he was a comparatively late starter in football because although he loved a kick-around in the playground with his mates he didn’t start playing until he joined West Dragons because his friend Jordan Thomas was involved and they were coached by Jeremy Thomas, Jamie and Lee Palmer. Although Dan is a natural right-footer he played left back at under 16 level and eventually made it into senior football with the Dragons’ second team.
Then he decided to play first-team football for Broad Haven, where some of his pals play, and there is a link to Haverfordwest County. He started out with the Bluebirds at under 16 level in a team coached by Lucas Gamble, after Mark Hicks had recommended that he was good enough to try his luck at the Conygar Bridge Meadow Stadium. He quickly settled in and has been there ever since, alongside Laurie Haworth and Jack Britton in playing for the college in their league which takes place right along the M4 South Wales Corridor.
It’s a similar story with the Young Bluebirds but Dan really enjoys it there with Laurie and Jack, plus the likes of Gregg Walters, Glen Fiteni, Joe Brill and Owen Coombs, just to name a few besides those already mentioned. It is a big commitment but Dan enjoys the matches and the training, which sees him train at the Conygar Bridge Meadow or the Astroturf on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as part of his college course. Fortunately, Dan has the total support of mum Sarah, who is the stewardess at Haverfordwest Rugby Club, plus grandparents Alan and Ann Harding.
“They are all great taxi drivers,” says Dan with a chuckle!
Dan plays his rugby at outside half after starting out in an excellent Neyland Junior team coached by Steve Evans and winning their age final in the Pembrokeshire Cup Finals Day every year. He and his team mates played three times at Parc y Scarlets and he enjoyed playing at such a famous venue with the young All Blacks. He played full back in some of the finals and is full of praise for coach Evans, as he is for Jeff Clout, who coached the county team throughout that time as Dan played for four years as a student at Tasker Milward School. He then moved to Pembrokeshire College, where he is on a course for Level Three Sport Development, and reduced his rugby commitment to Haverfordwest Youth because of his football.
So what of the future for Dan? He has already shown his footballing credentials with the Young Bluebirds and this was reinforced when he attended a trial in Manchester for a two-year footballing course and was told that he had done really well and would be offered a place – but it was very expensive and with no possibility of financial help and so he had to turn it down!
But he remains ambitious for his football and one of his aims is to eventually do well enough to be asked to train with Haverfordwest County’s first team squad and perhaps to make it into their senior side.
He was also selected for trials with the Welsh Colleges earlier in the campaign.
“I played in the trial at Stebonheath Park in Llanelli,” Dan told us, “and although I was disappointed not to make the final squad I have another year at the age level and will be pushing all the way for a cap then.”
Dan is eager to carry on working hard and he added,
“I love being involved in football and like all the other players involved I would like to make it at professional level. I knew that very few make the grade but no matter what I will enjoy my football because it is great to be involved with my team mates and coaches.”
It seems the feeling is reciprocated because Steve Batty, Haverfordwest County’s youth team coach, is pleased with the progress that Dan is making. He told us,
“Dan Harding has really improved this season and forced his way into the squad because he has worked really hard and listened to what we want from him.
“It is a pleasure to have him involved and he is a credit to his family and the club.”
We could pay Daniel Harding no higher compliment and we wish him every success for his future at the Conygar Bridge Meadow Stadium!