You were meant to be here, this moment is yours

Great moments are born from great opportunities, said American ice hockey coach Herb Brooks who inspired one of the greatest sporting upsets of all time in 1980.

At the Winter Olympics, such was the dominance of the Soviets, a team of professionals and internationals which had won the four previous gold medals that they were expected to roll over the youngest team the United States had ever sent to the Games, a team of novice amateurs.

But Brooks told his young Americans that he was sick and tired of hearing how good the Soviets were and said “Their time is done.”

In an emotional speech, he told the young Yanks: “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”

The team went out and beat the Russians and won gold in what was dubbed the “Miracle on Ice” and what the U.S. magazine Sports Illustrated voted the top sports moment of the 20th century.

Twenty years earlier, Brooks had suffered heartbreak as a player when he was cut from the 1960 Olympic team the week before the tournament. For the rest of his life, he channelled everything from his previous highs and lows into making things happen.

This Saturday, whatever happens in the Irish Cup final, everyone at Ballinamallard United Football Club can justifiably go to Windsor Park and say “this moment is ours.” Players, management, committee, fans; everyone at the club should savour this piece of amazing history. And they should dream big.

Ballinamallard as a club has come a long way since re-forming in 1975 and entering the Fermanagh and Western division four. In the intervening 44 years, developments on and off the pitch have been impressive and even after they entered the old Irish League B division in 1990 they can’t have imagined a journey which took Whitey Anderson’s championship-winning team into the Irish Premiership, in which they finished fifth the first season. Despite predictions of going straight back down, the Anderson adventure saw the club retain their Premiership status for several seasons.

There were many memorable moments along the way. And all the while the progressive club was developing Ferney Park with probably the best pitch in the league as its centrepiece. That involved a lot of work from officials, and the main management committee has been backed up others such as the hardworking ladies committee.

The list of unsung heroes from 1975 to the present day is endless. So many have worked to make the club what it is. Football should be about people, and the people at Ballinamallard deserve their day in the sun.

And all this when the club’s youth programme provided football for boys and girls from the age of four or five through to 18. The club has a good record of young players getting capped at international level, and in Saturday’s cup final 24-man squad, 11 of them have played for Ballinamallard youth teams.

The cup final, of course, will see the main focus on the management team and players and they, too, will bring a wealth of background and personal experience to the day itself.

On the playing side, “Super Jay” McCartney must be one of the most popular players to have worn the shirt, and he along with experienced skipper Richard Clarke, goalscorer Ryan “Rocket” Campbell in his third spell with the club, and veteran keeper John Connolly who has shown tremendous character and dedication to overcome injury, will all provide experience for the youngsters in the team.

Many of the teenagers, though, will also bring qualities to the game with many of them having international experience and glory in the tough arena of GAA Colleges football.

A glance at the careers of all the squad is interesting in that a large number of them have represented either Northern Ireland or the Republic at various levels, so there is an undoubted abundance of ability in a group whose individuals didn’t quite get the break their talent deserved. They have, therefore, a track record of surviving the knocks and coming back.

It’s an eclectic mix, and everyone will bring something to the party.

They’re a good bunch of people, these players, and there’s a tremendous bond between them and the community of fans.

Expect them to be well prepared as everyone recognises that the manager, Harry McConkey is meticulous in his knowledgeable preparation. As his previous career in management with Larne, Dergview and the Northern Ireland junior international team shows, McConkey specialises in getting the best out of limited resources. He’s a “champion of the underdog.”

And Harry knows a bit about miracles! At the age of 15, he was very close to death after a serious cycling accident. So he quips “I’m glad to be alive never mind in an Irish Cup final.” The Magheraveely man has packed a lot into his life since then, and the family unit of him and his siblings, close to his mum and dad, were brought up with values including doing things right.

Doing things the right way has served the manager well in a varied football career and again this season when the revamped team lost eight games on the bounce, he didn’t panic and stuck to his principles.

On Saturday, McConkey and the players will bring along everything that has made them the people they are. It’s not a heavy burden, though, it should inspire them. And despite the hype, arriving suited and booted for a game on live television, McConkey and the backroom team he values will ensure the team will play the game and not the occasion.

Crusaders will be favourites, and Mallards will have to counteract their direct style to play their own brand of football.

It’s a football match, a one-off. So who knows?

But Herb Brooks said: “We should be dreaming. We grew up as kids having dreams, but now we’re too sophisticated as adults. We stopped dreaming. But we should always have dreams.”