Gareth Cauldwell talks to Ballinamallard boss Harry McConkey ahead of Saturday's Irish Cup Final

GC: Let's rewind to a year ago when you were relegated from the Premiership. Did you ever think then that 12 months later you would be preparing for an Irish Cup final?

HMcC: No, that is something that was furthest from our minds. Even yet we have to pinch ourselves and thankfully we have had games every week to take us out of the euphoria of what has happened. I think any player in Fermanagh would love to play in an Irish Cup final and I remember the day that Shane McCabe walked through my door with the Irish Cup having got man of the match in the final. He did that because he knew what the cup meant to me. I think my love of the cup final probably came from being brought up in Magheraveely and and watching the build up to every FA Cup final so when I came to Irish Cup days I felt that it was a really special cup day for us. For our Irish Cup games I used to wear a suit, I would have a flower on my lapel and I would treat it like our cup final.

There is no doubt that being in the final means an awful lot to us, it is a dream in some ways but we know there is a practical job to be done.

GC: It has been an up and down season but you are bound to be delighted with the response you have got from October time through to now?

HMcC: I heard it said the other day that there are two things which can define you; having patience when you have nothing and having a good attitude when you have everything and I think those two things apply to us. We generally had to have a lot of patience at the start of the season knowing that we hadn't got the likes of O'Reilly and Taheny back in and Smyth and Clarke had injuries. The very foundation of what we were trying to build was lacking experience at that stage and we were suffering because of it. But the good thing was that myself, Craig and Steve had a clear idea of what we wanted to do. The message that we gave to the players was that we would be building slowly but gradually and we would be doing the right things. Our whole methodology was based around that very goal, 'lets get better and lets get some stability into the club.'

Thankfully that has paid off and the players haven't seen that much different from December until now other than results. I always say that results cement everything but when you are not getting them that's when the real test comes. There has still been wee lapses that remind us that we still have a long way to go but for me the greatest thing of all is the run in the cup shows them what is possible but we want to be doing it consistently. Now we have another massive task and another step up at the end of a very long hard season on a squad that doesn't have the depth that somebody like Crusaders can carry.

GC: When it comes down it, this Saturday's game is between a Championship club and Crusaders who are a full time club?

HMcC: Crusaders are a fully professional club, they have players of real quality in the likes of Heatley, Owens and Cushley who can really hurt you. They are also playing week in week out against the Linfields and Coleraines and what have you, but this can maybe be their one weakness. I keep talking about unconscious complacency and Stevie Baxter can talk to he is blue in the face that he is not taking anybody for granted and talk myself up as a tactical genius and I just smile at that. He will know that we are a middle of the table Championship club dealing on very limited resources and with players lacking experience. I think 90 per cent of the time the team with the better players will win the game but we are living on the 10 per cent.

GC: You do though have some players with experience of the cup final and you yourself have experienced it as a coach with Dungannon Swifts. How did you find that day?

HMcC: The Dungannon day was great for me because I wasn't the man with all the pressure of being the leader of the pack, I was tucked in behind and I could enjoy that. It was lovely because Mark, my son, was there and along with another four Fermanagh lads in the squad in Clucker, Shane, Duwayne McManus and Paul Baron. I really embraced that day, I loved every bit of it. On that day we lost on penalty kicks but when we left the pitch there was so many people proud of the performance. We pushed Linfield who were clear favourites the whole way. I will use my experience and also that of the lads who have experienced the cup final before to help settle the nerves that the players have.

GC: Have you any advice that you always obey?

HMcC: My mum and dad would have been very proud of this occasion. My mum would have said 'sure the Harold boy has to be at something' and my dad's line would probably be 'make sure you have manners Harold because if you have manners you can go anywhere', and to be truthful I carry that with me all the time. Manners can take you anywhere and for me to be able to go to an Irish Cup final I want to make sure that my players have manners and we respect the whole day and IFA's protocol and respect Crusaders and hope that we can be part of something that is a really good day for our own community.

GC: It is obviously a very busy time for you, your phone hasn't stopped since we sat down and you have a full diary. How are you finding all of that, all of the build up?

HMcC: The truth of the matter is that it is not easy. You are trying to stay focused on so many things and you know that how you present the club on the day is very important, finances is very important and players need a lot of reinforcement and attention at this stage. Everybody needs support and you have to prioritise. You can be sitting talking to a reporter and somebody else is ringing you about something else. The only way I think you can get through it is to embrace it.

GC: When you strip it all away it comes down to 90 or 120 minutes on the pitch. Would it be fair to say that first and foremost you will have to match their desire and hunger?

HMcC: I was quoting to the boys that winning isn't everything but wanting to win is. These boys have been showing me constantly all season that they want to win and they have a desire and a hunger about them and I just know now that they are very much together and it is going to be about the strength of the pack of the day. We have to be staying in the game and then we have to have the confidence to put them on the back foot because everybody who we have played this year when we have put them on the back foot we have caused them problems.

GC: That opening 20 minutes of the game is going to be crucial, isn't it?

HMcC: There is no question about that and in principal we won't change the way we have played all season. We have talked about staying in games at the start all season and that will be the same on Saturday. We cannot go willy nilly and be wide open. I want players to express themselves but by that I mean I want individual players to be comfortable on the ball and to stay composed and organised.The core thing is that we want to play football and play through the thirds but out of possession is so important that we have the right opportunity then to attack.

GC: For a village team to be in an Irish Cup final, it is going to be a special day?

HMcC: It is going to be very, very special. For us as a county we sometimes have one or two players up there representing the county on cup final day but for us to take our own DNA up the country and put it on a stage like that is unbelievable. Here we are, I'm throwing these young lads into one of the toughest tests possible, you are not asking them to swim ten lengths, you are now asking them to swim 100 lengths and how they will react to that will be vital.

I'm just looking forward to that whistle blowing and knowing that I'm back in the cauldron of a football match and not all the hype that surrounds that. I do love the fact though that we have given the supporters and people of the county something else to enjoy along with the other sporting achievements that we have had. That is the most fulfilling thing for me and for a lot of the players.

GC: Finally, have you allowed yourself to thunk about what it would be like to lift the Irish Cup on Saturday?

HMcC: I have never allowed myself to think about how I would be feeling after the game, I literally put every bit of energy into the present and not think too much about the future or the past.