Ballinamallard United can rock mighty Linfield
Just a few years ago the thought of mighty Linfield playing host to little Ballinamallard United in the top flight of the Irish League would have been considered fanciful.
Geographically these two clubs may be miles apart, and historically they have vastly different tales to tell, but tomorrow they'll be together on the famous Windsor Park turf fighting it out for precious points.
And remarkably the first Fermanagh team ever to compete at this level will kick-off the fixture AHEAD of the champions and the country's dominant force for more years than David Jeffrey's rivals care to remember. With nine games played Ballinamallard, overwhelming favourites for relegation in August, are fourth in the Danske Bank Premiership table on 17 points with the Blues behind them in fifth on 14.
Linfield have taken a while to get going this season, but one senses quality performers like Jamie Mulgrew, Michael Gault, Robert Garrett and Peter Thompson are beginning to find the form that most feel will take them to another title.
Meeting the Blues tomorrow would be a daunting prospect for every team in the division, except Ballinamallard, that is.
They've been waiting for this match for decades and there is a determination to deliver on what is arguably the biggest occasion in the club's history.
There will be many at Windsor connected with Ballinamallard who will recall the days when the team played in the Fermanagh & Western League, long before promotion from the Championship to the big time was achieved last season.
The Mallards have flown some distance to get to this point and will arrive in Belfast on the back of four successive Premiership wins, including one at league leaders Cliftonville. Taking on Linfield in their own backyard will be a first for manager Whitey Anderson and many of his players, but they are savouring the prospect.
The manager’s real name is Wycliffe but friends, turning their thoughts to the famous White Cliffs of Dover, started calling him ‘Whitey’.
He’s a canny character who has wisely built a largely locally based squad passionate about Ballinamallard.
“Going to Windsor as a senior club is great for us,” he said. “It's one of the fixtures we looked at at the start of the season. They are the league champions, the most successful club in Irish League history and in David Jeffrey they have one of the great managers.
“Another boss told me the best time to play Linfield is early on in the season as it is not until October that they really get going and here we are playing them in the first week of October!
“Seriously though it's fantastic for us to be going there now because we're in a rich vein of form and intend to play our natural game and have a real go, knowing that we'll have to work extremely hard otherwise we'll get punished.”
Anderson and his team have been THE success story of the season so far. He is realistic to know, however, there will be tough times ahead, and says despite his side's stunning start there is much to do to avoid relegation.
But there’s a buzz around the region and over 1,000 fans turned up at Ferney Park when Glentoran visited earlier in the season. “Fermanagh is small but we've had brilliant support. Gaelic people and rugby people have been at Ferney Park and said they enjoyed it so much they'll come back,” says Anderson.
“The question was always asked: ‘Could anyone bring Premier League football to Fermanagh?’ We've answered that.
“Now the question is ‘can it be sustained?’ That's the big challenge for us.
“If someone had given me a blank sheet of paper in August I couldn't have written the script any better for our start to the season. We just want to keep it going.”
Linfield v Ballinamallard won't just be an historic occasion.
It should be a tasty contest too.