By Ashley Cox

ONE night before the 2019-20 UEFA Europa League competition is finally completed in Cologne, Barry Town will kick off the 2020-21 tournament with a potential trip into the unknown.

After the Covid-19 pandemic ripped up plans for a late-June start, Town will now instead face a one-off Preliminary Round showdown on Thursday 20th August.

Their opposition, as well as any home advantage, is still to be determined, with only eleven days separating the 9th August draw from the big kick-off.

Officials could therefore be scrambling to arrange a trip to Montenegro, Andorra or even the far-flung Faroe Islands, with three of Barry's eight potential seeded opponents based in the Nordic outpost.

As things stand, the Faroes is one of the few European destinations welcoming both tourists and supporters to games, with fans hopeful of avoiding the damp squib of a behind-closed-doors affair.

Should Barry be handed a home draw, matters are comparably complex, with use of Jenner Park's 3G playing surface believed to be prevented by the same bewildering, ball-rolling restrictions that forced the club to re-locate last season's home clash against Irish club Cliftonville.

Ironically, a rematch with the Reds could be on the cards this August, should the Solitude outfit be able to outlast rivals Glentoran, Coleraine and Ballymena to win the Irish Cup (to be completed at Windsor Park in the last week of July).

Interestingly, should already-qualified Coleraine lift the Irish trophy, then Crusaders will become one of Barry's potential opponents, the Seaview side having been the first overseas visitors to Jenner Park, way back in April 1922.

Whoever the opponents, Barry's return to the European stage will come on a date rich in resonance, with the 20th August matchday coinciding with the anniversary of their last win in the former UEFA Cup.

A packed Jenner Park on 20th August 1996 saw Gary Barnett's Barry overturn a 3-1 deficit against Budapest Vasutas, before beating the Hungarians on penalties to progress.

Well aware of the club's unique European heritage, manager Gavin Chesterfield and his players will surely be itching to write new history of their own, even moreso after last year's whitewash in Belfast.

With the unique circumstances perhaps presenting an unprecedented chance to advance, any Barry win would leave the Town with the tightest of turnarounds, before the Qualifying Round begins a week later, on Thursday 27th August.

Nevertheless, the possibility of Barry mounting a continental cup run should provide all the motivation needed when the squad returns to training shortly, with the backing of the Welsh Government.

With protocols ranging from daily health checks to training in groups of five, Town will reconvene without several familiar faces, as their march to Europe begins.

After a five-year spell with his hometown club, winger Drew Fahiya departs with 138 appearances under his belt, scoring 31 times for the first team, while claiming Golden Boot honours for his goalscoring prowess across the Welsh League title-winning season of 2016-17.

Meanwhile, defender Curtis Watkins leaves with 97 appearances and three goals from a four-year period; years that saw silverware, promotion, qualification and a league final start for both players.

Manager Chesterfield hailed the duo as "two fantastic guys", stating that "both have contributed hugely on and off the field in their time at the club and I know they are very proud of all they have achieved in a Barry shirt".

With goalkeeping coach Lee Kendall leaving to manage JD Cymru South outfit Taffs Well, newcomer Matt James will pick up the gloves for Barry's Euro adventure, while two of the team's former prospects have made their way back to Jenner Park, trading Penybont blue for Barry yellow.

A cousin of Wales manager Ryan Giggs, Curtis Hutson scored for Barry on both his home and away debuts in 2014-15, before taking his talents to Australia.

Landing at Penybont in 2018, the 25-year old then helped the merged Bridgend club to achieve and retain its JD Cymru Premier status, scoring five times in 21 appearances during the last campaign.

Making the same move is former youth product Michael George, who returns to Jenner Park after two years of Cymru Premier football at Llanelli and Penybont.

With 45 games in the Welsh top flight, including a career-best of 23 last term, the tenacious midfielder will hope to continue his emergence back in Barry.

In other news connecting the clubs, it has emerged that Eli Phipps will not return to Jenner Park this summer, following his own spell on loan with Penybont.

The former Cardiff City forward has agreed terms with Merthyr Town and will be part of the Martyrs' Southern League challenge, whenever it should begin.

Finally, Barry have moved to add sports trauma therapist Gabbie Amos to their backroom team, arriving from recently relegated Carmarthen Town.