Ballinamallard striker Crawford savouring success
As they fly high in the Premiership, the boys from Ballinamallard are revelling in their new found fame.
Beating Linfield in their own back yard one week and going to the top of the table the next has brought the little County Fermanagh club unprecedented attention, as well as high praise.
For one man, however, it’s nothing new. Striker Andy Crawford, still looking sprightly at 35-years-old, has seen it all before.
It’s now almost 11 years since Crawford notched Omagh Town’s winner in a 1-0 victory over the Blues at a time when the County Tyrone club were a constant thorn in the side of the more fancied teams.
They regularly took points off the clubs challenging at the top of the table and their St Julian’s Road home wasn’t always a happy hunting ground for opposing teams.
For Crawford it’s a bit like turning the clock back, but really it’s more like he’s gone back to the future with Ballinamallard planning a lengthy stay in the top flight, like Omagh before they folded in the summer of 2005.
“I remember going to Windsor Park with Omagh Town and scoring the goal that got us a 1-0 win,” said Crawford.
“We were the team that loved going out and upsetting the bigger clubs and we got a good few results against the odds during my time there.
“We are recreating that at Ballinamallard and if we can keep doing it I’ll be a lot happier.”
The man behind Omagh’s relative success, Roy McCreadie, brought colour to proceedings while he was in charge – literally on one occasion, when he made the walk along the side of the Windsor Park pitch to the dugout sporting a blue wig.
Mallards boss Whitey Anderson has yet to get involved in that kind of joviality, but there are still plenty of smiles on the faces of this group of players from the west of the Bann.
“Roy was what you’d call a likeable rogue, a larger-than-life character and his man-management style was second to none,” said Crawford.
“He had his own way of getting the best out of players and I owe him a lot. I wouldn’t have been in the Irish League only he gave me my chance.”
The Mallards’ status as league leaders will come under threat from a resurgent Crusaders team today. The Crues have recorded back-to-back wins in the league after losing to Portadown and they are also one of only two teams to beat the Ferney Park side since their elevation to the Danske Bank Premiership.
Even though they’ve only been at the top of the league for a week, Crawford is enjoying proving the doubters wrong.
“People said that our bubble had burst when we lost to Crusaders and then they said it again when we were beaten by Glentoran, but we haven’t lost since and now we’re top,” he said.
“We’re proving people wrong and it’s always nice to do that.
“There are genuine football people who are pleased for us that we’re doing so well, but there are also genuine football people who want to see us fail.
“Other than the last 20 minutes of the game against Glentoran we haven’t let ourselves down.
“I am pleasantly surprised at how well we’ve done. I thought my days in the Premiership were over when I signed for Ballinamallard, but Whitey said he’d get us here — and he did it a year ahead of schedule. He deserves a lot of credit.”
If Ballinamallard keep playing their exciting brand of football — only Cliftonville have scored more goals and nobody has a better defensive record — and upsetting the odds then Anderson might face a battle with some of the more established clubs to keep his best players.
It’s a situation that Crawford found himself in the summer of 2004, but McCreadie took him to Newry City just six months later when his Windsor Park career stalled.
“Linfield are the biggest club in the league and I have no regrets about going there,” said Crawford.
“Shortly after I signed my father had a stroke and travelling two hours to Belfast and two hours back didn’t really help.
“It was just the circumstances at the time which played a part in the move not really working out, but it was a learning curve for me and David Jeffrey is the best manager I ever played for.”