Ryan O'Reilly readily admits that after a tough five year spell at Stoke City he fell out of love with the game but that spark has been re-ignited since joining the Mallards with the centre half a key player for Harry McConkey's side as they go into Saturday's Irish Cup final against Crusaders.

O'Reilly left Cavan as a 16 year old for Stoke but things did not work out as he would have hoped with his time there blighted by injury.

"I signed for Stoke as a scholar at 16 and I was there for five years. I had some tough times there, I had a back operation at 18 which kept me out for almost two years and that is tough when you are still developing. You are making that transition from youth team football to first team football and it didn't help my development. But you learn from those things," he said.

And when he returned home the last thing that Ryan wanted to think about was playing football.

"I think I took a year and half out. My priority when I came home was to get back into college and get a degree of some sort and at the time I had no real interest, I had so many injuries and trouble with my back and I kind of fell out of love with the game a little bit and I wanted to get away and instead I played a bit of Gaelic football," he explained.

The persistence of previous Mallards boss Gavin Dykes though paid off when he got O'Reilly to agree to join Ballinamallard in January of last season.

"Gavin had been in touch with me a few times. When he first got in touch with me I wasn't fully sure about going back into it but I eventually signed last Christmas," he said.

It wasn't all plain sailing though with Dykes stepping down and Harry McConkey coming in for the end of last season while O'Reilly struggled with injuries and suspensions. Following a summer spent in America though he agreed to return to Ferney Park.

"I have family in New York so myself and a friend of mine went out for the summer just to experience something different. At the time the club itself wasn't sure what was going to happen next but I felt I hadn't done enough in the second half of last year with injuries and suspensions and I wanted to get back and prove a point to people," he stated.

And he hasn't looked back since as he has been a rock at the back as the Mallards have turned their season around following a poor start.

"When I came back from America I had a little hamstring problem but I rectified that early enough in the season and I have done well this season. My main priority for the whole season was just to stay fit and I think I have missed maybe two games all season so I'm delighted with that. When you get playing consistently your confidence builds and with the results we have been getting my enjoyment has been increasing."

Now, the whole focus is on the Irish Cup final where O'Reilly could come up against the considerable presence of Crues striker Jordan Owens. O'Reilly states though that they will be prepared for the challenge and he is really looking forward to the day.

"We'll do our homework on them and we know Crusaders are one of the big team but we will be prepared for it. We are all buzzing for it, I have family coming up from home and friends from my local GAA club will be coming up. It will be a great day for the club and the people of Fermanagh.

"We won't get carried away but we believe that on the day anything can happen and everyone of us believe that we can achieve success on the day," he added.