Belfast Telegraph

Mallards skipper takes positives from thrilling journey

My ball: Richard Clarke (right) is challenged by Philip Lowry
My ball: Richard Clarke (right) is challenged by Philip Lowry

By Steven Beacom

Skipper Richard Clarke is hoping Ballinamallard United's remarkable run to the Irish Cup final can inspire the club to win promotion to the top flight next season.

The Championship outfit did wonderfully well to reach the decider but came up short against a strong Crusaders side with Jordan Owens, Philip Lowry and Ross Clarke hitting the net in a 3-0 victory for Stephen Baxter's side.

Former Glentoran and Crusaders ace Clarke wants Harry McConkey's men to use the cup heroics as a platform to return to the Premiership.

"I think Harry and myself and the backroom team are of the same opinion. We can use this as a positive," stated Clarke.

"When you look back to where we were in October it is a bonus we got to this point. You don't want to lose cup finals but we should take the positives and look at how the community has got behind us, the feelgood factor around the team and the club and now we have to dust ourselves down, get a rest and have a hunger and desire for next season and aim for promotion."

On the final, Clarke stated: "Speaking to Charlie Murphy from the Crusaders staff after the game he said their game plan was decided on how we played and that is testament to how we have set up this year and the belief Harry has with our system.

"Stephen (Baxter) came into our dressing room after the game and congratulated us on our Cup run which was a great gesture.

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"I think it was a blow to lose the early goal but we gathered ourselves very quickly. Thankfully we got into half-time at 1-0 but then they got the second just after the break and it was a killer because it was always going to be difficult for us being 2-0 down to a team like Crusaders.

"The third one came quickly after that and for us realistically at 3-0 we knew it was gone and we had to see the game out as professionally as possible and not be embarrassed."

McConkey was disappointed to lose but spoke about his pride in what his players had achieved. He was also overjoyed by the support Ballinamallard received in the run up to the final and on the big day itself when thousands of fans cheered them on at Windsor.

"What gave me the greatest satisfaction was seeing so many people supporting us," he said.

"I'm glad I came back to manage the club. It has been an incredible period as manager.

"We would love to take from this journey that we can attract players to the club. It's been a fantastic experience for our youngsters and we feel this will be good for us in the long term."

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