Ballinamallard captain Richard Clarke knows what it is like to win the Irish Cup.

He lifted the trophy in 2003 as a Glentoran player, but he also knows the pain of an Irish Cup semi-final defeat.

Five times he came within touching distance of the final only to fall at the last hurdle. Every one of those defeats was tough to take at the time, but he hopes that the lessons learnt from those near misses can now help him lead this Ballinamallard to their first ever Irish Cup final.

“I will try to draw on my experience as much as I can,” he said. “I have lost quite a few semi-finals but I have managed to win one with Glentoran in 2003 and it is an amazing feeling. It’s probably the best day of the football calendar and it’s great to be a part of that and the whole build up. Getting the suits, the bus to the match, and then the celebrations afterwards were just incredible.

“I know I have been caught up in the experience at times and my performance hasn’t been good, but as players we have to play the game in front of us and let the fans enjoy the occasion more than us.

“We have a job to do, and our focus is to get to an Irish Cup final. I think if you dwell too much on the surroundings then you lose too much nervous energy, and I will be trying to get that home to the boys.

“There is no denying that we are a young squad with little experience of semi-finals and big games, but the thing about young players is that they are fearless and that maybe is an advantage.”

Victory over Harland and Wolff Welders in their last match gave the Mallards a confidence boost coming into the game, and with a much changed team producing a high quality performance, it has left manager Harry McConkey with a selection headache.

That battle for a squad spots has continued in training, with Richard impressed with the level of commitment from the players.

“Everybody wants to play in the semi-final of the Irish Cup and there has been a bite in training, although training has always been competitive,” he said.

“At the start of the season we had a lot of injuries but we knew once everyone was back and fit there would be a lot of competition for places, and that has proved to be the case. Harry used the Welders game as an opportunity to give people games because then if they are called upon they have a few more minutes under their belt. Everybody is fresh and fit to play and there is definitely competition for places.

“I think we have gradually been building things up and it has been good to have the previous Saturday free to prepare, but we can’t wait to get going now. We are quite a tight bunch and there is a lot of togetherness in the squad. Everybody is really focused and itching to get going.”

The semi-final draw could have pitted Ballinamallard against the big guns of Coleraine or Crusaders, and although Warrenpoint would have been Richard’s ideal choice of opponent, he is under no illusion as to the size of the challenge facing them.

“They are definitely a total footballing side,” he said. “Credit to Stephen McDonnell, as a young manager he has been brave this season in the league. They didn’t have a good start but he stuck by his principles and now he has made sure they are safe and they have accumulated a lot of points. I believe he is quite meticulous in the preparations, so it’s a match between two managers who are particular in their preparations and getting the fine details to come together.

“Hopefully we will come out on top but it is going to be a game of fine margins. Realistically, the two teams got the draw they wanted and I know Warrenpoint will fancy their chances against us, a championship side, but on the other side we fancy ourselves as well.”

Clarke believes they should go into the match with nothing to fear, with success over a Premier League club still fresh in their memories.

“We beat a good Dungannon side in the quarter final,” he recalled. “You look at the players they had on the pitch and they were all good experienced players with a lot of Irish League appearances. We need to take confidence from that, but we can’t take our eye off the ball and relax just because we beat a Premiership team before, because no two games are the same. It’s going to be an even bigger occasion and there is probably even more expectancy on us, but we are going in as underdogs and we will relish that and look forward to putting up a good challenge. We are looking to do the village proud. I think we have already done that but to take it to that next level would be extra special for the community.”