Ballinamallard manager Harry McConkey spoke of his pride following the Irish Cup Final defeat to Crusaders at the National Stadium at Windsor Park on Saturday.

The Mallards got off to the worst possible start to the game when they conceded after only six minutes and when Crusaders struck twice in the opening minutes of the second half the contest was put beyond the Mallards.

The Ferney Park outfit though continued to battle while the large support sang to the end and this is what McConkey has taken most out of the game.

“The overriding thing of it was I was just incredibly proud of the players and the supporters.

“The fans gave us wonderful support right to the end and even late on they were singing ‘we are going to win 4-3’. I would have loved to have given them more to cheer about and when we got back to the club they were great again,” he said.

By Monday afternoon, McConkey was already looking to next season as he travelled to the play off final to see whether they would be playing Carrick or Ards next season. Indeed, he hadn’t yet had the opportunity to watch the game back but he had some clear memories of the final and in particular that opening goal by Jordan Owens.

“It always takes me two or three days to process something like this and the bigger the game the longer it takes you. I haven’t actually watched the game back but I have some very vivid memories of it and certainly the first goal is a very cruel way to start a game when you know the important thing was to stay in it. You have got to give Crusaders credit, they did exactly what they do. You can set up your gameplan and we were determined not to give Owens any space and try and get people around him when the ball is fed to him but I don’t think we got enough pressure on him and I think John’s position was just that step forward and it was too big a climb for him to get a good hand on the ball and put it over,” stated Harry.

However, he was pleased with the response after the early set back.

“It was an awful way to start the game but then from a positive point of view, many a team could have folded at that stage and really gone under. It’s your first Irish Cup final with quite an inexperienced team and you have just given your opponent the oxygen to really hurt you. However, I thought we clawed our way back into it and Rocket had a chance soon after the goal. We also had a couple of half chances towards the end of the half and that was pleasing,” he added.

A goal down, the Mallards still had hope at half time but the half time team talk was ripped up as Philip Lowry and Ross Clarke netted inside the first ten minutes of the second half.

“At half time the big message was that I wanted us to be more aggressive with our back three, meaning that I wanted us to break and demand the ball and be loud and vocal because we were being a little bit timid and frightened because of the pressure from them. The other thing was that I didn’t want our top three to be involved in physical battles. We wanted more movement from all three of them and particularly in the wide areas we wanted Nathan and Darragh to take their big players to places they didn’t want to go. We knew at 1-0 we had a good opportunity to get back into it but we knew we must be really tight and clinical in the opening ten minutes of the second half. Unfortunately, though we found ourselves 2-0 down minutes into the second half and while the first goal was damaging, the second goal was critical and soon after that they brought on Clarke and he scored their third. This is a team that could have beaten us by six or seven but we have to give credit to the characters we have. They showed that resilience to keep going and try and believe in what we do and on a big stage like that you could easily collapse under the pressure of that,” said McConkey.

Next season McConkey will aim to make a promotion push and is looking to bring in a couple of new faces to add extra quality to the squad.

“It is going to have to be quality over quantity. Last year there was an element of quantity because we had lost so many and I was literally wondering where am I going to get a team from. I have the spine of the team signed for next year which is good and while there is no doubt that the majority of this squad will be returning for next season, there will be individuals that I will be wanting to speak to in the coming days and weeks. We will also be looking for a few fresh faces to come through the door but that won’t be about numbers it will be about where we feel is essential to strengthen us,” he commented.