Harry McConkey thrilled as the Mallards soar towards Irish Cup glory

What a journey it has been for Ballinamallard United since Harry McConkey took over the reins at Ferney Park.

Three wins and four draws almost saved the Mallards club from the Premiership drop before they were cruelly relegated on goal difference.

Ballinamallard United boss Harry McConkey

Ballinamallard United boss Harry McConkey

Fast forward 12 months though and McConkey is preparing for the biggest game in the Club’s history, and is delighted to have the support of County Fermanagh and beyond behind his team.

“We’ve spent all year looking up at people, it’s now lovely to see people looking up at us,” he said.

“It’s amazing to have gone from the bottom of the league to this and gain that sort of momentum and allow people to enjoy their sport again and lift a whole club and a community.

“The values that we need in our country right now are desperately lacking if we had that type of leadership, that fun and sense of family-spirit and empathy and understanding for each other we would be in a much better place.

“We’re going to enjoy Saturday and bring everyone to the table. It’s lovely to see everyone who wants to come with us. We’ll have people from both sides of the community, from all sporting backgrounds, from across the border in Sligo.

“We have a number of sports stars from Fermanagh who have achieved so much in their sport, but are so pleased to see others from the county do the same.”

The Mallards have a great mix of youth and experience and McConkey believes they can help each other on the big day.

He said: “I have to trust I’ve put enough into my players to give them a platform and a confidence to go and play. That’s what pleased me so much about the Warrenpoint game.

“But thanks to the maturity of Richard (Clarke) and his composure and linking of the play so well we went out and took a hold of the ball and a hold of the game early on, because we could have got wiped away.

“I know Stephen (Baxter) will be hoping to put the game to bed early. My job is only that I can prepare them as much as I can, but I trust them that they will be able to perform because of what we have put into them.”

Another experienced campaigner, goalkeeper John Connolly, has played a key role in the Mallards cup run, and McConkey revealed the elder statesman of the team has come in for a bit of a ribbing from his team-mates about his age.

"Someone threw the line out recently that John is only three years younger than the club," said McConkey.

"The players were all ribbing him about it. To be fair to John his doesn't look his age and he is so fit, but that doesn't come by chance.

"He's just like Richard Clarke, and that's why I love having them around me.

"People who believe it what you want to do and are role models for young players to see how you should conduct yourself if you want to be successful in the game.

"It's not by chance that John and Clarkey are still tasting success because they have looked after themselves.

"John will send me a clip every Sunday saying 'this is my recovery gaffer!'.

"He drives down from Newry to Armagh to coach a young keeper, but it's a double hit for him as not only is he coaching the young keeper and passing on his experience, he is also getting his recovery work in."