Football/Soccer

Harry McConkey is the best in the business: Ballinamallard keeper John Connolly

Ballinamallard United boss Harry McConkey has guided the Ernemen back to the Irish Cup quarter-finals

Sadler’s Peaky Blinders Irish Cup quarter-finals: Ballinamallard United v Ballymena United (today, Ferney Park, 3pm)

BALLINAMALLARD United goalkeeper John Connolly wouldn’t swap Harry McConkey for any other manager in Ireland as the Ferney Park men aim to pull off another Irish Cup upset against Ballymena United this afternoon.

One of the great footballing alchemists in local football, McConkey led the Championship outfit to last season’s Irish Cup final and has guided them to this year’s quarter-finals.

Connolly has been around the Irish League ranks for the best part of two decades and hasn’t encountered a more impressive manager than Magheraveely native McConkey.

“One of Harry’s strong points is the way he treats people and in my eyes that’s how he gets the best out of people because they respond to the way he deals with you,” said veteran keeper Connolly, who had spells with Cliftonville and Newry City.

“I’ve had managers in the past who had different ways of doing things but Harry talks to you like you’re a person, that you matter to him. So you want to do well for him because of the way he treats you.”

Probably because of location and the fact that he’s been heavily involved with Northern Ireland’s Junior International team for many years, none of the big clubs have come calling for his services.

Connolly added: “His preparation and attention to detail is frightening. I’ve never come across anything like it before in terms of the depths he goes to and making sure we’re prepared for the games.

“On the training ground, the parts of the sessions he takes are very good. He could be managing one of the clubs at the top end of the Premier Division, without a doubt.

“When some of the big jobs come up I don’t know what those clubs are looking for. Whether Harry would have been interested in them at the time because he’s heavily involved in the Northern Ireland Junior International team, I don’t know.

“Personally, I’m glad that he hasn’t gone to another club because he’s been great for us.”

Connolly remains a key player at the Ferney Park club alongside former Crusaders midfielder Richard Clarke while free-scoring Ryan Campbell has 23 bagged goals this season and will be one for the Ballymena defence to watch today.

The ‘Mallards have built on last season’s remarkable Irish Cup run, which ended in the final against a rampant Crusaders side, as they sit in second spot behind pace-setters Portadown.

“Last season probably gave us that little bit more belief in ourselves,” said Connolly. “We are a decent side, we try to play the right way and Harry has us playing the right way. He insists on that. After reaching the Irish Cup final last year we came in for pre-season and wanted to build on that.

“We’re going well in the league and we’ve got the bonus of getting another cup run.

“It has been a good season so far for us even though people have been saying we’ve slipped up recently. I know we dropped points and out of the four games that people are talking about we’ve drawn two and lost two and obviously the draws were against Portadown and Ards who are decent sides.

“We’ve already got the North West Cup in the bag [beating Dergview on penalties]. We’re getting into the business end of the season now and if we can hang in around where we are after the split we’d be happy enough with that.”

Sadler’s Peaky Blinders Irish Cup quarter-finals

Ballinamallard United v Ballymena United

HARRY McConkey’s pursuit of sporting excellence is insatiable. The ‘Mallards are pushing Portadown at the top of the Championship and his players haven’t lost the taste for Irish Cup glory. Remarkably, they reached the final last season. Ryan Campbell is bagging goals every week. Ballymena have slumped to ninth in the table but still have plenty of quality. Don’t rule out an upset here.

Odds: H:7/4 D:23/10 A:5/4

Prediction: Draw

Dungannon Swifts v Cliftonville

CLIFTONVILLE are out of the running for the Gibson Cup and while they’ve laboured in recent weeks, they will be primed for the Irish Cup. Still haunted and inspired by the Spirit of ’79, Paddy McLaughlin has relieved the pressure on himself by winning the Co Antrim Shield already this season. Reds by a short nose against an erratic Swifts side.

Odds: H:18/5 D:14/5 A:4/7

Prediction: Cliftonville

Glentoran v Crusaders

THE Glens have hit a bumpy patch after impressing earlier in the year, while the Crues have been equally erratic. Lost the League Cup final and shipped defeats to Linfield and Glenavon. Tough times at Seaview, but Stephen Baxter’s men can recover and progress here.

Odds: H: 13/10 D: 13/5 A:31/20

Prediction: Crusaders

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Football/Soccer