Ryan O’Reilly is just three weeks into his Ballinamallard career, but he already looks like being a valuable addition to a defence that has conceded 60 goals in 23 games. The 22 year old centre back has five years of playing competitively in England, and he looks to have adapted immediately to life in the Irish Premier League. O’Reilly, from County Cavan, has signed for Ballinamallard until the end of the season, and credits manager Gavin Dykes for persuading him to turn down offers of full time football from south of the border.
“Gavin showed how much he wanted me and how determined he was to get me, and he is the reason I went to Ballinamallard,” admitted Ryan. “I came home from England back in May 2016. I had a few injuries at Stoke and my head wasn’t really in it and I was looking to get out of football for a while. I went back to playing Gaelic football with my local club and I had been there for the past year or so. Gavin got on to me in the summer but I was committed to the Gaelic at that time with the championship going on, and I wasn’t really looking to get back into football. I said I wouldn’t go back unless I was 100 percent fully into it so I said that to him at the time. We met up over the summer and had a good chat and he is a very understanding man. He understood the situation I was in. I had come home from England and I was down about it and didn’t want to know about it, and he helped me as much as he could and advised me form his previous experience. He was a massive help.”
Despite Dykes being frustrated in his initial attempts to get the former Republic of Ireland youth International he did not give up hope of persuading him to make the move to Fermanagh, and before Christmas he finally got his man. “Dykesy got back on to me just before Christmas, and things had changed a bit,” explained Ryan. “I felt I was ready to get back into football. I had interest from a few League of Ireland teams as well and I was weighing up my options at the time. With Dykesy getting on to me, he was a real help and showed how much he wanted to sign me. He is the reason I’m involved now.”
O’Reilly arrives at Ferney Park with an impressive CV despite only being 22 years old. The defender initially played his football at his local Ballyjamesduff team, but from the age of 12 was in the sights of academies from England. He represented his country at under 15, under 16, under 17 and under 19 level, and at the age of 16 made the move to England to join up with Stoke City. He spent five years at the club and spent time out on loan at Conference sides Barrow and Wrexham, before eventually returning home. Having spent so long at England he admits he knew little of the Irish Premier League, but is undaunted by the prospect of a relegation fight with the Mallards. “I wasn’t really too sure what I was going into, but the prospect of the relegation scrap was more of a challenge than anything else,” he said. “My main aim was to get back playing football and enjoying football again. That is my priority and after playing a few games and seeing what the competition is like, I don’t have any concerns. Dykesy is the same and is full of confidence going into the second half of the season. One or two players are coming in but there is talent in the squad already and technically it is a very good team in comparison to some of the other teams around the bottom. We are technically far better and its maybe just about having a bit of confidence and maybe learning a few things about managing games to get results, because it is still a young team. 
“I feel over the second half of the season there is a lot to play for and I can only see the team improving. There is a confidence within the group that the players are too good to go down. The aim is to get out of that relegation battle and push on from there.”
Having been thrown straight into the starting eleven at the first opportunity, O’Reilly made an immediate impression, and he admits he has been happy with how he has settled in at his new club.
“The good things was that the games came thick and fast when I signed,” he said. 
“I was happy getting those three and half games in ten days. I had been playing with the college in Sligo before that but in senior football the last game I played was about three years ago at Wrexham. It was good to get the minutes under the belt and I was pleased with how I performed. It’s a new partnership with Matty Smith at the back, and it’s about getting used to the boys around me and them getting used to me.”
And despite being withdrawn at half time in Saturday’s defeat to league leaders Crusaders, he is confident he will not miss any league action. “It is only a little niggle in my hamstring,” he revealed. “I was a bit concerned going into the game that three of four games in ten days was going to take a toll on me while I was getting back to full fitness. It’s nothing too serious though so maybe I will give this weekend’s cup game a miss but the Glentoran game the following Saturday I should be 100 percent for.”