Richard Clarke hungry to help Ballinamallard clinch return to the big stage
Richard Clarke has made playing Premiership football again before the end of his career a major goal.
The Ballinamallard United captain has won the Irish League title with Glentoran and Crusaders, as well as lifting the Irish Cup with the Glens, and his appetite for success isn't wavering, even as he approaches his 34th birthday in November.
After leading the Mallards to the Irish Cup final last season, Clarke is hungry to build on that momentum - although a 1-0 defeat to Knockbreda in last Saturday's Bluefin Sport Championship opener wasn't quite the start he or the club had in mind.
As he prepares to take on his hometown club Dergview in tonight's second round of matches, Clarke is determined not to be playing catch-up too early in the campaign after a disastrous start to last season saw Harry McConkey's men scrape into the top six just before the split in their first season following relegation.
"I have won things at a higher level, but I have a burning desire to get the club back into the Premiership," said Clarke.
"I was involved in the relegation and that still hurts a lot. Everything is there at Ferney Park for Premiership football and it would be an achievement and a major success in my eyes if we can get back up.
"I still want to test myself against the Premiership teams, and we showed in getting to the Irish Cup final last season that we can do that, but we need to be more consistent and earn the right to get back up.
"The Cup final was a fairytale, but as far as the league is concerned we have to get a good start this season, learn from the mistakes of last season and use the positives as a platform to build from."
After getting their promotion challenge off to a dream start by winning 4-0 at PSNI on Saturday, Ards face the weekend's other big winners, H&W Welders, who beat relegated Newry City 2-0 at Tillysburn.
Ballyclare Comrades, who won 3-2 against Queen's University with three goals in the final eight minutes, will hope to stay in touch with the leaders when they travel to Portadown, who are looking for their first win of the campaign after a scoreless draw at Loughgall.
TONIGHT (7.45pm unless stated): Knockbreda v Dundela (7pm), Queen's University v PSNI (7pm), Ards v H&W Welders, Dergview v Ballinamallard United, Newry City v Loughgall, Portadown v Ballyclare Comrades.