We're here and we want to stay
Ballinamallard United manager Whitey Anderson is very realistic in his targets for the new season as his side prepare to become the first ever Fermanagh side to play in the Danske Bank Premiership.
Finish third from bottom, secure their place in the league for next season and then the campaign can be deemed a real success. Anderson is under no illusions that it is going to be a massive task to even achieve that as his side comes face to face with the likes of Linfield and Glentoran for the first time in a league basis, but that will be the aim for the Mallards.
"For myself, and for everybody at the club, we know exactly what lies ahead. One season ago we were in the Championship and we would not have even contemplated being in Premiership. We are here now though and there has been a lot of hard work to get us to where we are so we are going to give it our best shot. I'm sure that when all the pundits pick their teams to be relegated we'll be among them so in that regard we have nothing to lose and we will be doing everything we can to stay up.
"It is very simple, and I'm not being in anyway negative, the aim for us is to finish as high up the table as possible and ultimately the goal is to maintain our Premiership status."
It has been a much busier summer than normal for Anderson as he has set about preparing and strengthening his squad to meet the big demands that the Premiership will bring. Experience has arrived in the shape of Conor O'Grady and Alvin Rouse. Ryan Campbell and Ciaran Harper have returned to Ferney Park while he has also added exciting young Sligo Rovers prospect Liam Martin on loan to January. These players have been added to the squad that clinched the Championship last season and Anderson feels he has a good mix entering the new campaign.
"We had done our homework and we got a number of players into the squad and we'll go into the season with a squad of 20 or 21 which I'm delighted with. I'm also delighted with the players attitude during pre-season and we can't wait now for the season to get going. I think the players we have brought in are good additions while the players who have been with us for the previous two or three seasons are now more experienced. We have the likes of Alvin Rouse, Mark McConkey, Conor O'Grady, Steve Feeney, Jason McCartney, Ryan Campbell and Andy Crawford who have all played at the top level and we have a lot of good young players. There is a good balance and we would be delighted with the make up of the squad," he explained.
Ballinamallard have built up a strong relationship with the Sligo area over the last couple of seasons and the players who have come in from that area have certainly been one of the main reasons the club has got to where it is now. The squad though still has a very strong local feel to it, and that is crucial, according to Whitey.
"They are vital (local players) and while we have brought in players, two thirds of the squad is from the local Fermanagh and Western area and it is a great opportunity for those local players to play Premiership football. And if we can maintain our place in the league then it is something for young fellas locally to aim for, to go and play Premierhip football for Ballinamallard.
And he hopes that local football fans will get behind the team and grasp the opportunity to watch Premiership football in their own backyard.
"I'm really looking forward to see Ballinamallard represent Co. Fermanagh in the Premiership and and hopefully people in the area will come out and watch us as it is a great opportunity to see Premierhsip football on your own doorstep. And that goes for the whole Fermanagh and Western area in general. We have players from Castlederg in the squad and we have youth players from Omagh and I know from living in Omagh that there is an interest there in coming to see us," he commented.
So what is Whitey most looking forward to?
"I suppose it would have to be the first game of the season at home in Ferney Park and hopefully we can put a smile on peoples faces but there are so many matches to look forward to this season," he said.
Ballinamallard are going to be in the media eye over the next few weeks as they begin the Premiership adventure but Anderson is keen for the players to play the game and not the occasion, while he is also looking for his side to get early points on the board.
"The start of the season is going to see a lot of publicity and a lot of it will be about the occasion and the fact that it will be the first game ever for a Fermanagh team in the Premiership, which is great for the club and the supporters. For the management and the players though it is about being professional right from the start. We're really looking forward to it but we also know we have a game to play and it is important for us to hit the ground running. We'll just be looking to take one game at a time, like we did last year, and it would be great to get off to a good start," he said.
Local rivals Dungannon though are sure to provide a stern examination on the opening day.
"Dungannon have signed a number of very good players and it is going to be a very tough, competitive local derby. The pace and intensity is going to be a lot greater than what we faced last year and it will be important that we get used to that right away. We will not be changing our approach to the game though. We will continue to try and play football but we will need to be smarter when we don't have the ball," he said.
And if the Mallards can emulate Dungannon over the next few seasons then Anderson will be more than happy.
"Dungannon would be the benchmark for us. They made the step up a number of years ago and are still there and if we can mirror what they have done we would be more than delighted," stated Anderson.
This article appeared in Impartial Reporter 09 Aug 12