“It is a huge achievement for us to be here, everybody knows that, and it is never ever taken lightly, not even slightly. For any club to be in Europe year in, year out, you’ve got to have that passion and ambition for wanting to strive and wanting to progress, and we embody that at all levels of our club.
“It is a privilege to be a part of such a competition, to go to Geneva and be part of the draw, to have European opposition coming to Wales to compete against us, to travel, to experience this, it’s something we want to be a part of year in, year out, and to do that we’ve got to continue to raise the bar and continue to develop.
“We’re not standing still, we’re always looking forward and always looking to progress at all levels, because if you don’t then you will be overtaken, and competing in the UEFA Europa League and Champions League is the pinnacle of all of that, so we’re hugely looking forward to the challenge that lays ahead and we can’t wait to represent our league once again on such a huge stage.”
It is easy to forget that The Nomads are still relatively new to the European stage, but they have taken to it with real enthusiasm and developed massively as a club during their time competing at Europa League level.
Catton detailed how much the club has learned and progressed as a result of their experiences in recent years, but also how much he feels opposing clubs have learnt from coming up against Connah’s Quay, as well as his pride that Welsh clubs are competing to a good standard.
“Our European experiences have helped the club to develop massively, without a doubt. Going to Norway, going to Serbia, Finland too, you just see different styles of play, different tactics, formations and ideas, and we’ve tried to take these back then and implement as much as we can in our domestic games and in the academy.
“What is also really impressive and speaks volumes for what The JD Welsh Premier League is doing at the moment is that these teams are coming to us, seeing how we operate, and taking things back with them to wherever they’re from too, and I think that is a huge compliment for our league.
“A lot of teams underestimate us, how we prepare, our fitness, tactics, everything, but we bring a lot to the table now as do the other Welsh clubs who have competed at this level, and it is great to see our clubs representing our nation in the right manner, competing well and leaving an impression.
“It is still a mammoth task, we’re not underestimating that all, but certainly I think the league and it’s European entrants have done well in recent years to show themselves and the qualities of what we’re doing in Wales in a very positive light.”
Always a challenge for JD Welsh Premier League clubs is the prospect of facing European opposition at this early stage of the competition who are well underway in their own domestic seasons by now, as Connah’s Quay’s opponents in this tie are 15 games into their Belarusian Premier League campaign.
That, of course, does bring about it’s obvious challenges for Andy Morrison’s side, but on the flip side Catton noted the positives it gives The Nomads, before elaborating on how well preparations have gone for this week’s fixture.
“From a match sharpness and match readiness point of view, they undoubtedly hold an edge over us as they’ve played 15 games in their league already and are competing at the higher end of that division, but on the flip side it has given us plenty of opportunities to study them and what they are about.
“We’ve watched their last eight games in detail, with thanks to the FAW Trust for sourcing and providing that footage for us, and Andy has been over to Belarus to watch them live, which is fantastic, but these are things they don’t have on us because they don’t know what we’re working on, what we’ve done in our pre-season games.
“There are positives and negatives to it of course, we’ve competed in Europe for the last few years and that does mean you’re basically taking part in 11-month seasons because you don’t get much of a chance for a break, but our preparation has been brilliant – the players have shown superb work ethic, they’ve been perfectly committed, and we’re very much looking forward.”
Nonetheless, The Nomads find themselves in a position that every club in Wales would like to be in, contesting European competitions for another year, but Catton noted the pressure and the challenges that come with representing the JDWPL on the European stage.
“There is an element of pressure to what is to come, without a doubt, because we are representing the country – that’s how we view it – we want to do the best we can for Wales and for The JD Welsh Premier League, because as a playing staff, coaching staff, as a football club, we’re privileged to be a part of it, definitely.
“What we did in our results against Stabaek, in our win against Helsinki in the first leg last year, we’ve been fortunate enough to get coefficient points on the board for Wales which will hopefully keep those four places available for us.
“We want to do as well as we possibly can, because we want the whole league to succeed and for there to be as many opportunities as possible for teams within our league to compete in Europe.”