Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena midfielder McAlorum out to repay Jeffrey's faith through injury nightmare

By Billy Weir

Stephen McAlorum is a player who gives no quarter in the heat of battle, which is ironic given he dishes out sweets for a living.

The 31-year-old owns two confectionery shops in Belfast but has had all sorts of injury woes over the past couple of seasons, meaning that Ballymena United fans wondered if they would ever get to see the combative midfielder in action.

The injury crisis at Warden Street has meant David Jeffrey has had to pick and mix his squad of late, so no finer man than McAlorum to turn to.

Now two games into his comeback, the smile is back on McAlorum's face, but he admits it has been a struggle.

"It has been a long time, it was two years and I was back playing a bit and then I got injured again. Hopefully I can kick on now for Ballymena," he explained.

"I hurt my back and then my calf, and then I hurt my knee when I was playing for the reserves. The team were doing well and I had to wait my chance because there's a great squad here and a great bunch of players.

"You have to wait your time, work hard and, when you get your chance, take it. I've played two and a bit games now and I'm feeling good, feeling sharp and fit enough, and I hope it continues."

Ironically, an injury to Gary Thompson, arguably the Sky Blues' player of the season thus far, has opened the door for McAlorum, who paid tribute to manager Jeffrey and his assistant Bryan McLoughlin for keeping faith in him.

"It was getting to me because I wasn't contributing anything, and that was getting me down more than anything," he admitted.

"I did have a couple of conversations with the manager. I said, 'Listen, I don't feel right coming to every training session and doing nothing, not playing matches or helping the team out', but Davy was positive and told me I was going to come good, just keep working. He's a great man, he helped me all the way.

"We had a few conversations and they helped massively, him and Bryan have been first class with me when others might have tried to offload me and said it hasn't worked, but Davy believed in me and kept working me hard, and hopefully it can continue and I can help Ballymena in any way possible."

With so many kids coming through the ranks at Ballymena, McAlorum now finds himself one of the elder statesmen in the team, but a brief conversation with the man shows how much he loves the game and is a perfect role model for the next generation.

"If you're playing Irish League football to be a millionaire it's not going to happen," he laughed.

"It's not massive money, it's for the love of the game. Big crowds and big games, that's what it's all about, that's why you start. A lot of people knock the league but it is the biggest stage you can play on in Northern Ireland and it's a great league to be involved in.

"I just want to keep playing football. Everyone is pulling in the same direction and it's a great club and it's great to be part of it.

"It's a long time not to be playing when you're travelling down three times a week and you just don't feel part of it. To actually play, you get that wee buzz out of it again, you feel like you're helping out, you're sore and you're hurting and that's the best part. If I come off the pitch and I'm not sore and haven't been kicked or hurt it feels like I've done nothing.

"It has been a slow season for me, and now it's about keeping that standard going, trying to drive the team forward."

Next up is a game with Carrick Rangers tomorrow as United look to cement their spot in the top six.

"Every game is hard. Carrick came down here about a month ago and put it up to us," he added.

"It was a tight enough game. It's going to be tough, and we know we're not good enough to take our foot off the pedal, but if all 11 or 16 of us are on our game then we're a match for anyone, but we can't carry any passengers. The top six is there, but you want to win every game and see if we can go further than that."

And, as for McAlorum, there's no question of hanging up the boots just yet, or else he'll have to answer to old pal Packie McAllister.

"As long as I stay fit and my legs hold out I am happy enough to play," he said.

"I don't want to have that regret of having stopped and wished I hadn't. Packie McAllister is a good friend of mine and he always says, 'Don't stop, keep playing'."

So to keep playing, maybe a top-six finish and some cup glory is the aim. That would be sweet for Stephen.

Belfast Telegraph

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