IRISH CUP SEMI-FINAL: Keeper John Connolly thrilled as Mallards fly high

Ballinamallard's John Connolly makes great save  in the penalty shoot out against Dungannon Swifts.    Photo Desmond Loughery/Pacemaker
Ballinamallard's John Connolly makes great save in the penalty shoot out against Dungannon Swifts. Photo Desmond Loughery/Pacemaker

John Connolly heaped praise on boss Harry McConkey for the turnaround in Ballinamallard United’s season.

After beating Limavady United in the opening game of the season the Mallards remarkably lost their next eleven league games.

Through it all though McConkey stuck to his principles and beliefs and turned things around again at Ferney Park as Connolly explained.

“When you’re going through a bad spell it’s quite easy for the manager and coaches to start questioning what they are doing and look to change things about,” said the experienced stopper.

“But credit to Harry he has faith in what he does and we stuck to it.

“From our preparation to our training we all bought in to what Harry was wanting to do and he deserves so much credit for how we have turned things around.

“We all know that when managers go through a bad spell it’s quite easy for clubs to panic and get rid of them.

“But Harry stayed true to his beliefs and how he goes about things and I’m delighted he is getting the rewards now.

“You could see just how much it meant to him after we beat Dungannon Swifts in the quarter finals.

“It was great to hear the fans singing his name, he deserves it!”

It’s fitting for Connolly to be back on the big stage again a year after battling back from what could have been a career ending injury whilst at Portadown.

The 42-year-old ruptured his Achilles tendon in an innocuous training ground incident during his spell at Shamrock Park.

Lesser men would have hung the gloves up, but not Connolly.

“It was a tough time with the injury and other personal things that had happened,” said the popular Dubliner.

“But you just have to keep going and season’s like this make it worthwhile.

“I never ever thought I’d be getting ready to play in an Irish Cup semi final, but I’m so looking forward to it.

“It was fantastic to get through to the quarter final, but to make history and get to the club’s first ever Irish Cup semi final was even better.

“There’s a great buzz about the place, it’s only a small village but there is so much support for us.

“But the manager is making sure we aren’t getting too far ahead of ourselves.

“All our focus is on Saturday’s game and that’s it, you can’t afford to look too far ahead of yourself in this game.”

Connolly along with the likes of Richard Clarke, Jay McCartney and Ryan Campbell add great experience to the Mallards exciting young squad.

And the keeper feels that mix could prove vital on the day.

“We have a great blend of youth and experience in the squad,” he said.

“I think that is key for any team if they are going to be successful.

“A lot of our talented young players may be unknown to many outside of our club, but they are great prospects.

“The club deserves so much credit for the work going on with the youth development.

“There is some cracking young players coming through at all age groups, and if the club can hold on to them they will have some side in the future.”

Connolly, with over 600 senior appearances at clubs including Cliftonville, Newry, Derry City, Finn Harps, Larne and Glenavon, knows cup games come down to whoever turns up on the day.

And after dumping Dungannon Swifts out in the last eight the keeper says Ballinamallard go into the game full of confidence.

“Yeah we are confident, but there is no real pressure on us,” he said. “In games like these the pressure and expectation is always on the team who play in the higher league. We go into the game looking forward to it and fully focused on what we have to do.”