Ballinamallard United boss Harry McConkey hoping to wave magic wand one more time in Irish Cup Final

Ballinamallard United manager Harry McConkey
Ballinamallard United manager Harry McConkey

How does a team turn things around when it gets mired in a tailspin of bad results?

It’s a question which has faced many a desperate manager down the years. Sadly, the answer is often a bitter one; You simply don’t.

When positives are thin on the ground, players don’t have far to look for excuses. Much harder to take charge of your destiny and turn things around.

After an opening day win against Limavady, Ballinamallard went on a run of eight straight defeats. A 0-0 draw against Loughgall broke the sequence, but that was followed by a 5-0 defeat to Portadown which stretched the Ducks winless streak to ten games.

Then, after a 2-0 victory over HW Welders, a sea-change took hold as the Mallards went on to lose only one of the following ten games.

It was a Lazarus like change of fortunes, but McConkey insists he had no magic wand to wave.

“In the early days you were sitting there in the middle of the night and thinking, ‘Wow, in all of my career I’ve never had such a spell of defeats.’

“And for this to be happening with such good people around me was unnerving to say the least.

“But you realise all you can do is shake yourself down, keep going and get on with it.

“You find out so much about yourself and the others around you. David Blaine said something that sums it up. ‘Whether it’s shuffling a deck of cards or holding your breath, magic is pretty simple.’

“People ask me how I turned it around as if it’s some magical spell.

“It wasn’t magic. What Blaine says is, ‘It comes down to training, practice and experimentation followed by ridiculous pursuit and relentless perseverance.’

“The bottom line is you have to practice like hell. I had to experiment with young players and positions.

“I am also very conscious that the people around me have made such a fantastic contribution. I hate it when people sing my name and try to give me the credit for it. I’ve been very lucky.”

Having turned around their league form, Ballinamallard went on a Cup run which has taken the club into terra incognita. McConkey admits reaching an Irish Cup final has created a whole new dynamic around Ferney Park.

“Occasions like this heighten your emotions and thoughts and where you are at as a coach and a manager.

“You have this horrible fear that drives you on that you don’t want to let anyone down.

“But regardless of the opposition we’re going to have no fear of them. We’ll respect them, but we shouldn’t have fear of them.

“The crowd will be behind us, the neutrals will be behind us. We will make a noise, that’s for sure.

“No matter how it goes there will massive learnings for the club, the players, the staff, for me, maybe even for the supporters going up to Windsor park for the first time in their lives.”

From a personal perspective, this is as big as it gets for McConkey.

“I have loads of memories and you’d have thought at 60-years-of-age this year that those days would be long gone.

“But to be walking out in Windsor Park with my grandson alongside me and Fermanagh people from both sides of our community up in the stands roaring for us is, for me, the pinnacle.”