ANGLESEY has a great history of producing top goalkeepers.
From Wales number one Wayne Hennessey (Beaumaris) to the likes of Alex Lynch (Holyhead) and Tony Roberts (Holyhead), there has been no shortage of top shot-stoppers who began their footballing careers on the island.
One of the finest to play locally, as well as in Wales’ top-flight, in recent times is Paul Pritchard.
The 37-year-old, another one from Holyhead, has established himself as one of, if not THE, best goalkeeper around by now.
By now, he’s racked up more than 550 senior appearances for his respective clubs, keeping nearly 200 clean sheets in the process.
Pritchard’s senior career began with Holyhead Hotspur when he turned out for the club in the Cymru Alliance (now JD Cymru North aka tier two) in the 1999/2000 season.
In 2001, he joined Welsh Premier (now known as JD Cymru Premier) club Bangor City before moving on to Glantraeth in the Welsh Alliance (2002-05) and returning to the top-flight with Caernarfon Town between 2005 and 2007.
He also played for Connah’s Quay Nomads (2007/08) and Rhyl FC (2008-10) in the Welsh Premier. All in all, Pritchard made more than 100 appearances in the top-flight before he moved on to Northern Premier League club Warrington Town in 2010.
A return home to North Wales with Caernarfon Town followed in 2012, with the club playing in the Welsh Alliance at that time. Whilst in his second spell at The Oval, which lasted four years, he enjoyed many a great success – winning the Welsh Alliance in 2012/13, several cups and earning the most clean sheets of any keeper in the division in one season.
In 2013, he was part of the Caernarfon side which made its way to Newtown’s Latham Park to face Kilvey Fords FC in the FAW Trophy, coming out on top 6-0 to earn the club the trophy for the first time since 1978.
He was also keeper when Town won the Huws Gray Alliance in 2015/16 (above) – earning promotion back to the top-flight in the process. But in the following season, Pritchard returned to where it all began with Holyhead Hotspur in the Cymru Alliance.
Two years later, he would go on to play for Porthmadog. He was, unfortunately, part of that Port side relegated from the JD Cymru North following a season cut short by the Coronavirus pandemic last season.
A loan move back to Llangefni Town had been completed back in January but, as the tier two season never got underway, he never played.
Talking to AFE about his long and successful career between the sticks, Pritchard said: “The highlight for me was probably beating Bangor City in the Welsh cup back in 2002 at Farrar Road on penalties whilst I was with Glantraeth. Bangor had a great team at the time.
“Another one was playing for Wales Semi Pro team in the four nations tournament in 2008. Playing against Partizan Belgrade in front of 15,000 Serbians was an experience to say the least!
“In terms of the best players I’ve played alongside I’d say Jimmy McNulty at Caernarfon was excellent. He was very calm on the ball and athletic and went on to play in the Championship.
“Daz Bach is an excellent player aswel you always have a chance with him in the team. Dion Donohue is another and Sam Finley at Warrington was an influential player who is currently playing for Accrington Stanley. Other top players locally are Jay Gibbs, Dean Garmey, and Nathan Craig.”
Over the years, Pritchard has earned himself a reputation as being a fantastic penalty saver.
He is of course recognised for having saved a vital spot-kick in the Ynys Môn men’s gold-winning final win over Guernsey in the 2019 Island Games tournament held at Hotspur’s new stadium.
That day, Pritchard – who was captain of the Ynys Môn side – denied Matt Loaring from the spot as goals from Liam Morris and Mel McGinness secured a historic win for Campbell Harrison’s side in front of more than 3,000 spectators.
Talking about representing his island and on whether or not he works on saving penalties in training, Pritchard said: “I’ve played in 7 islands games since 2005. It was fantastic to win the gold for Ynys Mon, the whole squad played a part in winning the final. The attendance at the game was unexpected really we didn’t expect over 3,000 at the game but it definitely helped the squad get over the line after playing 5 games in 6 days.
“It’s always nice to save a pen – especially in a final, I managed to guess the right way and it was a comfortable save in the end, if a goalkeeper guesses the right way you will always have a really good chance of saving it. I actually saved a penalty against Guernsey back in 2011 in Sweden against the same player and he went the same side so I thought I’d go the same way and luckily for us I guessed right!
“Not many penalties go high in the corner and at this level players don’t get the opportunity to practice penalties that often so I’m always quite confident I will have a chance of saving it. I don’t work on penalties at all in training I just try and use my experience and gut feeling where players might place the ball. At university I did a dissertation on penalties so I have learnt about penalty taking from an academic background which has helped.
“Over the years, I’ve had many great goalkeeper coaches too such as Merv Williams, Steve Owen and Mike Innes and the late Bob Brodie (ex Hotspur manager) was excellent with me as a 15/16 year old at Holyhead Hotspur.”
Talking about what the future holds for him post-pandemic, Pritchard added: “I’ve missed training during the week with the lads and I’m looking forward to playing a competitive game each week again.
“I’m just going to enjoy it and not take it for granted. I’ve probably only got two or maybe three seasons left of playing so I want to make the most of it and play at the highest level.”