Welsh Premier League: Champions The New Saints 'hungry' for more success

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TNS ‘need to stay on top of their game’

The Welsh Premier League's 25th season kicks-off on Friday evening when three-times champions Bangor City, under new manager Andy Legg, host newly promoted Cefn Druids.

Cardiff Met are the other newly promoted team in the 12-team league.

The competition, as has been the case for the past six seasons, will split into two groups of six midway through the campaign in January.

The champions will represent Wales in the Champions League with the runners-up securing a spot in the Europa League, as do the Welsh Cup winners.

A third Europa League spot will be awarded to the end of season play-off winners.

The champions - The New Saints

The New Saints secured their fifth consecutive Welsh Premier crown last season and director of football Craig Harrison is targeting an 11th title in the club's history.

Saints begin their title challenge at home to Aberystwyth Town on Sunday, having already been involved in the Champions League qualifiers last month.

Former Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace defender Harrison does not expect his side, who also won the Welsh Cup and League Cup in 2015-16, to have it all their own way this season.

The New Saints celebrate their Welsh Cup final win over Airbus UK
The New Saints won the Welsh Cup, League Cup and Welsh Premier League for a second successive season in 2015-16

"We've got a lot of youth and we've got a lot of hunger. We've probably got the youngest squad since I've been here but football is a young person's game," Harrison said.

"But you've got to have three or four experienced players, which we have with Paul Harrison, Phil Baker, Christian Seargeant, John Routledge, Aeron Edwards and Alex Darlington.

"We've brought Steven Saunders in, who is a Scottish international and Tom Matthews is a very young player, with lots of pedigree and is going to be one for the future.

"Bala and Connah's Quay will be the main challengers to ourselves, without a doubt.

"Connah's Quay have invested heavily and they've got a very good manager in Andy Morrison.

"He proved it last year when he first went there, he did a great job and got the team into Europe and naturally they're going to be competitors and pushing us.

"Bala have been runners-up for the last two years and they've invested with the likes of Chris Venables and Lee Owens."

Title contenders - Gap Connah's Quay

When Andy Morrison took over at Gap Connah's Quay in November 2015, the club was struggling at the wrong end of the Welsh Premier League table.

But the former Manchester City and Blackpool man transformed the Flintshire club's fortunes, culminating in securing European football.

Gap Connah's Quay v FK Vojvodina
Gap Connah's Quay reached the Europa League second qualifying round before losing to Vojvodina of Serbia

Nomads reached the second qualifying round of the Europa League and Morrison has targeted further success this season.

"Different clubs will have different goals, but for us and probably six other clubs, Europe is what we're all going for," Morrison told BBC Wales Sport.

"Our goal will be to get in the top six and once we've established ourselves in the top six we'll be going for one of them top two places to guarantee Europe.

"The league I believe, in the year since I've come in, has got stronger and this season I think it will be the strongest it's ever been.

"We're all trying to catch The New Saints and it's important we keep challenging."

"Bala have established themselves over the last couple of years and although Airbus took a step back last year they'll be a formidable force.

"Llandudno have strengthened and they've got a fabulous spirit under Alan Morgan and will be there or thereabouts."

Newly promoted - Cefn Druids

Huw Griffiths, in his second spell as manager, guided Cefn Druids to promotion to the Welsh Premier League after a year's absence from the top-flight.

Druids finished runners-up in last season's Cymru Alliance but were promoted after champions Caernarfon Town were denied a domestic licence.

Griffiths is looking forward to the challenge, which kick-offs away to Bangor City on Friday, 12 August.

"We have to stay in the league and finishing 10th would be fantastic if someone offered that to me now," Griffiths told BBC Wales Sport.

"But we've got the excitement of having a new 3G pitch due in October.

"It will bring the community closer together and the revenue that it brings in is paramount for teams at semi-professional level and an extra source of income.

Huw Griffiths at Wrexham's Racecourse Ground
Huw Griffiths was Cefn Druids manager when they played in the Europa League in 2012

"Once we get the revenue from that we can see where we're at as a club and maybe try and compete with some of the other clubs.

"We have to play away at TNS for the first couple of months but we have to get on with it.

"We've made lots of changes over the summer with about 11 players arriving. We needed to do that."

"There's some very good sides in the league and there's not going to be any easy games.

"It will be consistency of performances and consistency of players during the season that will get teams climbing up the ladder.

"That's what Llandudno did last season, they got themselves on a great run and continued to perform well for the season."