THIS has been a fantastic season for everybody involved with Newport County and now we are only 90 minutes away from being promoted to League One.
The play-off semi-final against Mansfield last week was one of the toughest ties I have ever been involved in. Both teams left everything out on the pitch, and it took a penalty shootout to separate us at the end. It was a cruel way for Mansfield to lose but only one team can go through. Thankfully it was them and not us.
That penalty shootout has set us up for another trip to Wembley to play Tranmere Rovers in the play-off final on Saturday and it is going to be a great occasion for ourselves and our supporters.
The build-up around Newport since the semi-final has been brilliant and it going to get more and more exciting for everyone as the game gets closer.
For the players, we have to just prepare for it like it’s a normal game for us. The rewards might be greater, but we can’t let the occasion get to us.
Tranmere were actually the first team I ever went to watch play in England when I played in a tournament over in Liverpool when I was 11. John Aldridge was the manager at the time, and we got to meet him after the game. I always looked out for Tranmere’s results because of that.
Our FA Cup runs both last year and this year will stand to us because of the hype going into those games. We will be going into this game as underdogs too, but we don’t mind that. All season people have been writing us off and we have been proving them wrong, so we just need to do that one more time.
There was a small hiccup in our preparations as our training ground was due to be renovated and we had no place to train this week in the lead-up to the final because of this. The people who booked the date for the renovations obviously didn’t believe we could make the play-offs.
Cardiff City came to our rescue and they have offered us their stadium to train in all week (their training ground is also being renovated). It is a brilliant gesture from Cardiff who Newport fans would have always seen as their biggest and most hated rivals. But we were in need and they have helped us out massively.
Training at their stadium all week will give us a little feel of a mini-Wembley and help us prepare for the excellent surface we will be playing on Saturday. Usually when you get to Wembley and a play-off final you travel down a couple of days before to get used to the surroundings, but we might not have to do that.
I think only one of the lads in the squad hasn’t played in or been involved in a game at Wembley before, which is brilliant for us.
Whatever happens Saturday, it has been an amazing season for the club, but it would cap a dream season if we were to get promoted. We have worked extremely hard since the first day of pre-season last June until now to get into this position. The final will be our 62nd game of the season with six or seven players playing the majority of those games. Just about everyone is back fit and ready to play a part in the final if needed by the manager.
For myself, it has been a season that I will never forget. Even though I scored more goals at Grimsby Town, I think this season has been the best of my career to date. There have been so many highs for me and every time I think it can’t get any better, it does. To be honest, it has all been a bit mad.
The FA Cup was brilliant for me and little did I know when I scored that late goal against Man City it would be the goal that would help me finish the FA Cup as joint top scorer with City’s Gabriel Jesus.
That is something I am very proud of, but I would swap a lot of those personal highs (except the Ireland call-up) for promotion this weekend.