Richard Clarke says Ballinamallard United will have no fear against Crusaders

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Richard Clarke expects his Ballinamallard United team-mates to ‘play without fear’ when they take on Crusaders in Saturday’s Irish Cup final.

Some are questioning how the Mallards young guns will react to the big occasion.

Ballinamallard United captain Richard Clarke

Ballinamallard United captain Richard Clarke

But cup winner Clarke has no fear believing they will rise to the challenge, just as they have done throughout this year’s tournament.

“I think I mentioned in the previous round against Warrenpoint about the likes of myself and John Connolly having to use our experience,” he said.

“The good thing about our squad is that we have a good mix between experience and youth and I remember being a youngster myself and you just play with no fear.

“That factored into the Dungannon and Warrenpoint games when we just went out and showed no fear at all.

“I think those experiences and the big game mentality we’ve had this season, trying to reach the top six has really helped the young lads in terms of the feel of a big game.

“I’ve the experience of winning the Irish Cup and John [Connolly] has the experience of losing a final so if we can combine that with the experience of Jay McCartney with the experience he’s had and ‘Rocket’ and then the young lads it’s a good recipe.

“Generally we didn’t talk too much about the influence John and I could have ahead of the last two rounds because everyone knew the importance of the games.

“It’s about leading my example and bringing across that calm and composed feature as well as being motivated.

“We’re both calm naturally and are always open to players coming talking to us.

“None of the players get caught up in the moment either, and that is a credit to Harry [McConkey].

“There are players who have played in big games this season like the MacCrory Cup final and Hogan Cup final so they are well used to big games.

“At such a tender age they will be ready. I was quite worried in the sense of how we’d start the semi-final against Warrenpoint.

"I know the Dungannon quarter-final was brilliant and there was a great atmosphere in the dressing-room after it but I did wonder how we’d cope with the greater expectation because the draw was quite favourable to us.

“I said to myself 15 minutes in ‘if we lose this game there will be absolute devastation because we knew we had a major, major opportunity.

“There was a stage when I hit the first penalty and I’d scored them all year but I’ve never felt as nervous taking one.

“I just wanted to get the boys off to a good start and thankfully it hit the net and it set the tone for us and then John came up trumps.

“But this is one we’re really looking forward to.”

Clarke is all to aware of the size of the task in front of his side having spent three years at the Crues winning two league titles along the way.

Stephen Baxter has had a big impact on the midfielder. Clarke feels he and current boss Harry McConkey have got the best out of him as a player.

“Both Stephen and Harry are leaders of men and they respect you as a man and treat you with human qualities,” he said.

“There’s no doubt Stephen got the best out of me as a player and hopefully Harry is doing the same now.

“It’s great to play under them both and they’ve both given me things to take on board if I decide to go into coaching and management.

“Stephen and I shared a wee moment of experiences together and the success we had together.”