Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena wonderkid Balmer could be another Irish League export, says Owens

Cliftonville vs Ballymena Utd; Danske Bank Premiership; Solitude, Tonight, 7.45pm

By Billy Weir

Ballymena United defender Kyle Owens says that his teenage partner in the centre of the Sky Blues' back line can go all the way to the top.

Kofi Balmer, who recently penned a three-year deal at Warden Street, turned in another stunning display in Saturday's victory over Glenavon, giving star striker Andrew Mitchell one of his toughest battles of the season.

No mean feat for the Ballyclare lad who is just 17 and recovered from having a penalty awarded against him in the first minute for a handball, to brush off that frustration and not put a foot wrong.

Owens has been impressed with his maturity, saying Balmer, who left Linfield to come to Ballymena, plays more like a 30-year-old than someone who has barely started shaving.

"He has signed another three-and-a-half years but I think another year here and he'll be ready to go across the water, he's that good. And at only 17 he has it all ahead of him," said Owens.

"He listens well and does what he is told, he doesn't answer back and he's a joy to play with. He came out and was unbelievable. Andrew Mitchell is a real handful and Kofi did very well against him."

Manager David Jeffrey is a huge fan of Balmer and in particular how level-headed he is for one so young.

"A lot of the credit must go to Bryan McLoughlin from Phil Harbinson and Gareth Moody last year bringing him through in the under-20s and the message when he joined us was that we are a club that is prepared to give young people opportunities," Jeffrey explained.

"If you are hungry and have that desire and obviously have that ability and talent then you are in.

"He is very much there on merit. He has done tremendously well and Bryan and I are tremendously proud of him.

"But he goes about it in such a modest way and his feet are firmly on the ground and that's typical of his parents."

Balmer could well be in for a busy night tonight as he and Owens prepare to lock horns with the plethora of attacking riches Cliftonville have at their disposal.

"In this league everyone beats everyone, you have to go out every week and take it game by game and hopefully get the points," added Owens.

"We didn't start too well but we've picked up now and we're getting into our stride and hopefully we can kick on now and we have another big game against Cliftonville.

"They've probably got the best two strikers in the league and most players need two or three chances but they just need the one and it's in the back of the net, but if myself and Kofi play well, hopefully we can score goals and get the three points."

Cliftonville's squad has been boosted by the arrival of former Dundalk midfielder Conor McDonald, while, in contrast, United are down to the bare bones but Jeffrey has urged his remaining players to give it a lash at Solitude.

"It's another tough one. Games between us have been tight, we went down there earlier in the season and we felt we could have got a draw and then when they were up here with us, they felt they could have had a draw," he said.

"So we have one victory each and they are on a good, decent run of form and for us it is a test. These are established top six sides and given our circumstances is going to be a challenge for the players.

"They have excellent firepower, play some great football on their pitch but it is another challenge for the players. I've said to them 'make sure we prepare correctly' and let's go and have a crack at them."

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