When Stephen O’Flynn rejoined Ballinamallard at the start of January he came into a team that were struggling to score goals. In 24 league games, they had found the net 15 times. Since his arrival he has teamed up with the rest of the January signings and the Ferney Park crowd have witnessed 12 goals in their last three home fixtures, culminating in a dramatic 6-4 win over Cliftonville on Friday evening. The home fans will be hoping their hot scoring steak continues, but O’Flynn is not expecting any games to top Friday night for drama and excitement.
“To say it was a crazy game would be an understatement. It was probably the maddest game I have ever been involved in in nearly 20 years of playing,” he said. “There was a lot of disbelief, especially when we were 4-1 up just after half time. We thought the game was wrapped up and we just had to see it out. Even if they got one back it was no big deal, but then panic stations when it got to 4-3. It was just crazy. I was just absolutely delighted we came out on the right side of it.”
Despite securing only their second league win of the season, Stephen admitted that Gavin Dykes was far from happy in the dressing room following the game. “It’s not good enough and the manager stated that afterwards. Having to score six goals at home! That is an achievement in itself but to concede four is sloppy. It was just nuts. People got their money’s worth that night, and I suppose the main thing is that we got the win but we need to tighten up all over the pitch and defend better as a team.”
Despite the concession of four goals, the win did a lot to restore the feel-good factor to Ferney Park, and O’Flynn firmly believes that the current squad are more than good enough to retain their spot in the top flight.
“I have been in a few squads in the Irish League and this one is a hell of a squad,” he said. “It’s about getting the fellas to believe in themselves. My body won’t allow me to play all the games but I would like to think I can still contribute to the team. If I can help the younger lads and provide a bit of confidence and a bit of positivity around the place then that is kind of my role. Obviously there is a lot of work to do and Carrick have a few games in hand but we will keep plugging away. The positivity has definitely improved in the last few weeks and that is a credit to everyone at the club. Against Immaculata in the cup we were expected to win, but confidence was low and we still needed to go out and win the game. Then we should have beaten Glentoran, so the last few games have been decent. We lost to Warrenpoint in a tight game where I think a draw would have been a fair result, so we are going in the right direction and everything is positive. I think we will be alright.”
Although O’Flynn, soon to turn 36, admits he will not be able to start every game in the run-in, he has already formed a threatening alliance with attackers Sean Noble, Ryan Curran and Shane McGinty. “The boys are very good and I can’t give them enough credit,” he said of his striking partners. “They are the legs in the team and my job is just to get hold of the ball and make myself a presence up there and let them go and do their thing. It’s about sticking together, playing on the front foot and believing in yourself. The boys have scored a lot in the last few games and it bodes well for the future. If we can stay up, these lads can grow and gain that bit of confidence and believe that they can go on to be top players in this league.”
O’Flynn had half a season at Ballinamallard under the management of Whitey Anderson and he helped the club in their battle to stay in the Premier League, scoring three goals in 11appearances at the end of the 2016 campaign. He left the club for an ill-fated spell at Glentoran and then switched to Donegal Celtic, before Dykes offered him a last chance at Premier League football.
“I went to Glentoran and things didn’t work out well. My time at that club was probably my worst time in football,” he admitted. “I had done my groin in the first game of the season and I didn’t get back fit until Christmas against Ards. Myself and Curtis Allen started together for maybe the first time, I scored, and the manager said that if we both were fit we would make a good partnership. Next thing I was out of the team again. I decided that I had enough of football and I was going to finish up. I wasn’t going to kick a ball again. I had just got to the stage that I was frustrated and I didn’t want to play, so I packed it in. Stephen Hatfield from Donegal Celtic rang me, and because it was only around the corner I said I would come down. That was frustrating because there was a lack of numbers at training. I had spoken to a few of the lads at Ballinamallard and then Dyksey gave me a ring and asked me if I fancied coming back. Obviously I had got to the stage were I didn’t think I was going to play in the Premier League again, and the club has a fond place in my heart. I know what it is about and I know it means an awful lot to the fans that are down there. It’s a very family orientated club and there are a lot of people doing a lot of work in the background, and that for me is an important thing. I was delighted to get back. I had been playing at Donegal Celtic so that had given me games and I like to think my fitness levels are up there for my age which is nearly 36, so I chomped at the bit to come back.”
He was straight among the goals with a debut strike against Immaculata, but it was his miss from inside the six yard box against Glentoran that grabbed the headlines as the clip circulated on the internet. “It probably would have affected me in years gone by, but these things happen in football,” he said. “If it gives half a million people a few laughs I must be doing something good! It didn’t really bother me. People were saying that I must have taken a lot of abuse, but I know you have to have a thick skin in this game. People write good and bad about you and that’s the way it is. I was even getting hammered in work from the lads but it was grand. I don’t worry about getting goals too much because it doesn’t matter who scores them. There are a lot of younger lads running round me and we are all in it together. I was more disappointed that a goal would have made it 3-1 and wrapped up the game.”
Next up for Ballinamallard is a cup tie at Ballymena, and Stephen is expected a difficult game. “Ballymena is a tough one,” he said. “Our main aim is to stay in the league but a cup run would be great for the club. It gives people more games and if we can win there then we go into Glentoran on the Tuesday having built up our confidence. Any David Jeffrey’s team I have come up against has been a really good side with good players. It will be tough but we beat Cliftonville who play good football and have a lot of good players so if we defend right I’m sure we will give a good account of ourselves.”
A trip to his old club Glentoran follows on Tuesday evening, but the striker says he is not going there with revenge on his mind. “I have no point to prove but against your old team you always like to do well. I was always leaving Glentoran of my own accord and if I was offered a ten-year contract I wouldn’t have stayed there. It was a wrong fit, but I won’t be worrying about them. They have their own problems up there but we have our problems and I won’t be worried about revenge or looking to prove anything on the pitch. There is no looking back. If I can put in a good shift and get through 70 or 80 minutes and play well then I will be happy.”