Footballers' Lives with Ryan Campbell: 'I struggled to deal with my mum's passing and that feeling of loss weighed heavily on Irish Cup final day'
Ballinamallard's Ryan Campbell on emotional times, finally reaching the Windsor showpiece aged 37, and promotion hopes.
Q. Where did your football journey begin?
A. I used to go to the local leisure centre and summer camps in Castlederg. Paul Kee ran the Maiden City Soccer School and I did well there while going away on trips with them. From the age of 14 I started to break into Fermanagh and Western sides and progressed from there.
I started with Dergview and then went to Killen Rangers. I returned to Dergview and also went to Linfield Swifts for a season before Harry McConkey took me on loan to Ballinamallard.
That was about 20 years ago! Whitey Anderson later signed me when the Mallards got into the Premiership. Gavin Dykes took over but we couldn't reach an agreement and I went on to Dergview.
Harry came back in for me and because of the respect I had for him I thought it was right to have a third spell with United.
I played golf when I was younger but football was my major passion.
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Q. Has Harry been a big influence on your career?
A He has always been a great man, even taking an interest in your personal life and making sure you are okay.
The young boys are thriving under him because he is so approachable and easy to talk to. Some managers might not have great man management skills but that's one of Harry's strengths. As a manager, Harry's an all-rounder.
Q.. Did you have a full-time professional dream?
A. What held me back was that I was tiny when I was younger. I didn't start sprouting until I was about 18. From the ages of 14 to 18, I was very small and that restricted my progress.
Of course you have dreams, but it reaches a stage when you accept things won't happen. Linfield showed an interest when I was 17 but I didn't make a first-team appearance under David Jeffrey. They had Peter Thompson, Glenn Ferguson, Chris Morgan and Davy Larmour so I was well down the pecking order.
Q. Were you a confident player?
A. I always believed in my abilities but I still never take anything for granted and understand I need to earn my place in the team.
I always make sure I try to push myself and that attitude has worked well for me.
Q. Would you have changed anything about your career?
A. When I was in Australia I was with Brisbane Wolves, and then the manager of Brisbane Roar was keen for me to go to trials. I returned home but an ex-girlfriend was unable to get a visa sorted and I didn't take the chance.
That's a regret, not playing in the A League in Australia, but if I had stayed I wouldn't have met my wife and been settled here. It still left me wondering how well I would have done out there.
Q. What has been the best moment of your career?
A. It was a massive thing to play in the Irish Cup final this year, at my age. I never thought I would get the chance, and to make it with Ballinamallard, a club I love, was a very special moment.
It's just a pity we didn't turn up on the day but it was a nice experience. We knew we were massive underdogs against Crusaders and it was just a special experience.
The younger players had to embrace the occasion because I got my first taste of it at the age of 37 and you never know when it will come again.
Ballinamallard is a family club and everyone treats you with so much respect. It was really nice to see what it meant to the entire community.
Q. How long do you want to play on for?
A. My wife keeps complaining because I've been retiring for four years! If we get promoted to the Premiership it would be tempting to play for another season - that would be a nice way to bow out.
I'll see how we all feel at the end of the season. You're told to play on for as long as you can and I'm a proud 38-year-old playing in the second highest league in Northern Ireland.
Q. Who has been the best player you have played with?
A. Big Glenn Ferguson was a special talent, there aren't too many players like him about today. Paddy McLaughlin was a big influence at Institute, he was a captain who didn't tolerate messing in training and he had high demands while expecting dedication.
It's 100% or nothing with Paddy and we are seeing how driven he is at Cliftonville, where he is doing well. I also had great times at Institute under Liam Beckett when we won the league and Intermediate Cup.
Q. How supportive have your family been?
A. My wife Tiffany loves football and she runs her own health and well-being business called T&R Global, so she makes sure I'm eating the right things. She's prolonging my career and will bring the three kids to the games.
You are away from home a lot and Tiffany is brilliant at dealing with that. I knew her from years ago and then one night we met in Omagh.
We have been married for four years and the kids are Kendal (5), Hanley (3) and Reefe is 15 months. It's hard to explain but you are a different person when you look into your first born's eyes for the first time. We got married the following year and we've added to the family.
Hopefully the kids will get involved in sport because it's great for your development. My mum Sadie, sadly, passed away six years ago while my dad Thomas is still with us.
They were always easy going and never pushed me hard, they let me make my own decisions. If I was happy, they were happy.
I've three brothers, Ross, Clive and Steven and sister Cherry. Ross, who used to play for Dergview, is living in Luxembourg and working for Amazon. I'm living in Fermanagh, that's where my heart lies.
Q. What happened with your mum?
A. My granny had passed away earlier and my mum suffered from depression and developed a drink issue. We managed to get her off the drink but the damage was done and she passed away after a massive stroke.
The doctors felt that the drink had affected her body. Mum was 62 and that's too young in my eyes.
I had turned 31 and it was a massive blow. Tiffany and my family were a great support and a brilliant circle of friends in football helped me as well.
Mum was always checking how my career was going and the hurt is still there. On days like the Irish Cup final, it really hits home because family members are there and mum isn't.
That feeling of loss weighed heavily on the day but she's always watching over me and helped me get there.
When she passed away it didn't really hit me until three months later and then I didn't know what to do.
I was depressed but pushed myself on and my friends helped me.
You talk to other people who can relate to what you're going through and it's a big help. Football was a great medicine to get rid of the depression.
Q. Will you go into coaching?
A. I would like to do some coaching with strikers but at the minute I'm just focused on playing.
With Larne out of the picture, the race for promotion is more open for Championship clubs. Harry's got a great squad and we have a chance.
Date of birth: 8 July, 1981
Place of birth: Omagh
Previous clubs: Dergview, Killen Rangers, Institute, Brisbane Wolves, Linfield
Current club: Ballinamallard United