Owain Fôn Williams: Welsh international (at last)

Wonder what winning his debut cap meant for Owain Fôn Williams? Russell considers the circumstances in which it came having listened to Williams on Radio Cymru.

The highlight for many in November’s friendly against The Netherlands came late on when Owain Fôn Williams finally won his first cap for Wales.

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It also means I can remove Fôn Williams from the blog I wrote last year about players who have been called up by Wales but never called upon. In the five years since his first call-up, Fôn Williams waited patiently as his erstwhile under 21 compatriot Wayne Hennessey earned 50 caps; Jason Brown and Lewis Price won a cap here and there; and numerous young understudies came and went (Jon Bond, Rhys Taylor, Dai Cornell, Connor Roberts).

We have spoken several times on our podcasts about the paucity of proven international back-up in the squad should Hennessey be unavailable. The latest youngster to spend time with the full squad, Danny Ward, appears to have the class and temperament that the likes of Taylor and Cornell lacked and poses competition to Fôn Williams to be Hennessey’s understudy. But Ward is still largely untested despite his promising loan spell at Aberdeen.

So with The Netherlands game being the first of only four or five warm ups before Euro 2016 starts, it was imperative Coleman blooded other keepers. But Coleman’s man management continues to impress as he chose to reward Fôn Williams’ loyalty and patience with a cap and not Ward. Coleman, remember, got a final cap in the dying minutes against Germany in 2002 even though it was clear his career was not going to resume at the standard it had been interrupted at, if at all.

Coleman is acutely aware of what it is like to be on the outside, or at least the periphery, looking in as a squad bonds, improves and generates momentum, as the Wales side did under Hughes between 2001 and 2003. He’s not shy to be sentimental: by picking Vaughan to start against Andorra; ensuring injured players like Vokes, Neil Taylor or Jonny Williams are present at squad get-togethers; giving Shaun MacDonald substitute appearances. It is astute and is a factor in the tremendous squad spirit and togetherness.

But he can be ruthless. Danny Gabbidon remained stranded on 49 caps and much to Boaz Myhill’s chagrin, Hennessey returned to the side after his 16 months injury absence and was immediately installed as first choice. Myhill promptly ‘retired’, as so many had under John Toshack. When subsequently questioned about Myhill’s availability Coleman’s referred to dressing room harmony being his priority. All the while Fôn Williams kept his counsel and his head down quietly turning up for international duty.

This contrast in commitment and loyalty was what came to my mind when I noticed on 13th January that Fôn Williams was appearing on the Dylan Jones morning show on Radio Cymru with Al Hughes standing-in for Dylan.

So we tweeted in a question enquiring what Fôn Williams, who has waited so patiently despite not playing, thinks of those who retire because they get overlooked:

Inviting, as it might, possible criticism of his peers, I wondered whether the question would get asked or whether Fôn Williams might give the banal, non-committal answer so common from professional athletes. As others appreciated, to his credit Fôn Williams’ answer was honest and can be heard at 7m 40s into the interview, which is well worth a listen in its entirety.

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