Belfast Telegraph

Mallards must cast off shackles and aim for Europe: says Richard Clarke

By Graham Luney

Richard Clarke believes Ballinamallard United should start banishing relegation fears and begin dreaming of Europe.

Dungannon Swifts finished seventh in the Danske Bank Premiership last season, booking them a play-off spot with a Europa League place up for grabs, and Clarke, who left Crusaders in May, says the Mallards should be aiming high.

The departures of Ryan Mayse and former captain Liam McMenamin leave gaps that need to be filled but the club that has retained top-flight status for the last five years is keen to pack a bigger punch.

Boss Gavin Dykes has a young squad at Ferney Park but midfielder Clarke, who won back-to-back titles with the Crues, is relishing the challenge of helping mastermind a revival in Fermanagh.

"We do have quite a young squad but the key thing for the club is that we make progress," said the former Omagh Town, Newry City and Glentoran ace.

"We've got to look to climb up the table and that seventh place which brings with it a shot at Europe is a good target. Guys like myself and Ciaran Martyn, as well as James McKenna, can help nurture that young talent.

"This move suits me as they are my local club and that's better for my family life. But d as I'm 31 I need to be playing."

Earlier in his career, Clarke moved to Glentoran from Newry City and he made 209 appearances for the east Belfast side, scoring 19 goals. The Glens' first clash of the new season will be at Ferney Park on Saturday and their old boy is expecting a formidable challenge.

"I know some of their pre-season results haven't been great but it's the same for every club," said Clarke. "The matches are about fitness and the results don't matter. They are tough opponents and I've many friends there and the banter has started.

"The league is becoming more competitive every year and Glentoran's performance level will lift. Gary (Haveron) has assembled a new team and he will look to silence some doubters."

Clarke admits he will have one eye on the title race with Linfield and Crusaders expected to lead the charge again.

"I've a lot of connections with Crusaders and friends there so I always wish them well," he added. "I've friends at Linfield too but having spent a memorable period of my career at Seaview, I hope they can challenge again while other teams like Cliftonville and Ballymena United may come in under the radar. You never know and there are many interesting battles ahead."

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