When AFC Bournemouth’s under-21s step out onto the pitch against Eastleigh in this evening’s Hampshire Senior Cup final, it will have been 596 days since they kickstarted their campaign.
An 8-0 thrashing of Basingstoke at Vitality Stadium saw a hat-trick from Gavin Kilkenny, a brace from Jaidon Anthony and even a goal for Lloyd Kelly, who was recovering from injury at the time.
19 months later and Shaun Cooper’s side will be looking to lift the trophy at AFC Totton, with the team buoyed by last week’s Central League Cup success against Carlisle.
While a global pandemic and three national lockdowns has seen the Hampshire Senior Cup stretch over two seasons, it hasn’t stopped the determination of the young Cherries side.
Ahead of the game, afcb.co.uk caught up with ever-present full-back, Ben Greenwood, who began by discussing a season that’s been like like no other.
“It’s been a bit of a weird one if I’m being honest!
“When we started this year, I think it was always going to be a bit of a strange season.
“Obviously this cup is following on from last year, so the fact we’ve stuck at it and performed in each game is credit to everyone involved and we’re all very focused.
“It’s funny because, with things having been a bit stop-start, some of us haven’t featured in this cup until this season and now all of a sudden we’re playing in the final.
“We’ve waited a long time for this, but it’s good that it’s finally happening and that we’ll have had two cup finals in the space of a week.
“It’s very strange and unusual, but we’ve prepared well and we feel ready. All the boys are looking forward to it.”
Despite the difficult circumstances of the past 12 months, the under-21s could end the campaign with two trophies.
Goals from Christian Saydee and Anthony saw the Central League Cup return to the south coast last week and Greenwood believes that it has only spurred the side on more.
“The fact we’ve reached two finals is credit to us and credit to the staff,” he continued.
“It’s a big thing because I feel like we’ve won one and then the focus has immediately turned to this. We celebrated and enjoyed it last week, but our heads are focused on tonight and it’s now the most important game.
“In a final, it’s almost win at all costs, but the manner in which we did win last week has given every single one of us a huge boost in confidence.
“Despite that, I think we were all confident beforehand because of the form we were in, especially us defenders.
“We’ve kept a few clean sheets in a row now and we’ll be looking to get another one tonight. It would be brilliant because it shows all the work we’ve been putting in.”
With no goals conceded in recent fixtures against Weymouth, Bristol Rovers and Peterborough, Greenwood went on to explain the benefits of hard work and consistency across the defence.
“We’ve pretty much had a set back three or four for a while now, no matter what shape we play in.
“We had boys coming back from loan in the middle of the season and it was a bit chop-and-change, but I think now we’ve developed a proper relationship and we take a real good pride in defending.
“That’s showing on the pitch and the clean sheets have been a reward for that.”
While the youngster, who stepped up from the under-18s ahead of the 2020/21 campaign, may have featured regularly for Cooper’s side this term, his versatility certainly hasn’t gone to waste.
Whether it’s playing in the middle of a back four, the left of a back three or even as a wing-back, Greenwood is taking it all in his stride and admitted that, no matter what position, he’s simply happy to be out there.
“I think it’s another string to my bow the fact that the manager is playing me in a number of positions and I feel like it means he can trust me.
“For me, if I’m in that starting line-up, I’ll just give my all wherever I’m playing. This year, I’ve actually really enjoyed playing in a three on that left side because it’s shown that I can defend and it’s given me licence to work forward.
“I feel like me, JZ [Jordan Zemura] and Jaidon [Anthony], when we’ve played together on that left side, we can cause teams trouble.
“Even last week, I started as a centre-back in a four but then finished left-back and I feel like the rhythm of the team is always there even if people change positions.
“I’m not the only one that changes position, but I feel like wherever people get played they just want to be in that starting line-up and it shows that the manager trusts us wherever we play.”
However, it’s not just up one end of the pitch where Greenwood is having an impact.
An assist for Saydee’s opener at St. George’s Park last week capped off a fine competition for the left-back, who also netted twice in November’s game against Oxford United, which ensured the Cherries topped their group.
When asked about last week’s contribution, a delightful cross from the right with his weaker foot, Greenwood quite simply had no explanation!
“To be honest, I wish I had an answer to why I was up there!” he laughed.
“I must’ve just been up for a corner and the attack was still going on while I was there.
“I’ve been working quite a lot on my right foot, with passing and crossing, but I don’t really ever cross much from the right.
“I think the runs into the box and the early calls from the lads last week made it a lot easier for me.
“I’m also confident on both feet and that helped me in that situation, so to get the assist was brilliant.”
You can follow this evening’s Hampshire Senior Cup final over on Twitter, while there will also be full post-match reaction here on afcb.co.uk.