John Currie will take his place in a Ballinamallard league squad for the first time in almost three years when the team takes the field against Knockbreda on Saturday. The combative midfielder last turned out for the Mallards against Cliftonville in August 2016 before moving to Dublin to continue his education, and although he is still based in Dublin he has now made the commitment to return to the club when he learned his football trade.

“I had trained with Harry over the Christmas period and he had said at Christmas he was keen to sign me but he left it up to me,” revealed John. “I felt that I might be able to get an opportunity in Dublin that would allow me to train more often and be more local, but that didn’t work out. It was a frustrating time not playing any football, but I managed to arrange with work that I could come up and train on a Thursday and work from home on a Friday, and that is allowing me to play more football. I contacted Harry again this summer and asked how he would feel about letting me have another lash at it and letting me come in at the start of pre-season. Harry was very accommodating with me and he has been willing to let me take the time to get back into it, which has been very helpful. I’d say he has been closing his eyes at some of my first touches and shooting, but I appreciate the opportunity he has given me.”

Despite a spell out of the game John has already shown some pre-season glimpses of the form that made him a Premier League regular following his breakthrough into the first team back in 2013, and he is hopeful he can return to the levels that made him a crowd favourite at Ferney Park. “Match practice is the thing I would be lacking in,” he admitted. “Despite being in Dublin I have never trained as much in my life. I would have been at training twice a day for the last two years, whether that was in the gym or running, but it is one thing running a few kilometres on a treadmill and it’s another to go on a pitch and find yourself gasping for air and your lungs burning, but its progressively got easier and easier. Against Institute at the Brandywell I played the last half an hour and I felt I struggled to get up to the pace of the game. I felt like I was chasing the game, whereas on Saturday I got to relax into the game very quickly against a good Ballymena side. I know it will take time, but I’m looking forward to that. It’s the reason I came back to football. Everyone who has been to an Irish league game or a championship game knows it’s not tiki taka football. Its hard work grit and you have to earn your right to play. We will see how I cope in the next couple of weeks. The first thing is to get on the pitch, and that is going to be very tough. Midfield is a position Ballinamallard has had a lot of options with and that is no different this year. When I get my opportunity, and hopefully that will come soon enough, I have to play well. If I don’t I will be like anyone else on the team, I’ll be straight out because there is so much competition, which is a headache for a player, but it’s great too because it does push you on.”

It is a very different squad from the team that John was part of. Some familiar names such as Jason McCartney, Steve Feeney and Josh McIlwaine were there to welcome back the familiar face to training, but John likes what he has seen so far. “I’m very impressed with the squad,” he said. “It is different because there is a lot more youth in the squad now, which has its positives and negatives I think, but you have great additions since I have last been there with the likes of Clarkey who has that experience of playing at the top level. I’d say some of the stand outs since coming back are Matty Smith. I had heard a lot about him and he has always one who I have wanted to see play and he is a Rolls Royce defender. I could say the same about O’Reilly because they are both very comfortable on the ball. Then there is wee Seany (McEvoy) who is not so wee. He has been superb in attacking midfield and he can throw people around for fun, which is hilarious given his age. Everyone has impressed me.”

John would love to be a member of the squad to bring premier League football back to Fermanagh, but he refuses to look that far ahead. “The lads did unreal last year to get to the Irish Cup final but we have to take one game at a time and then we will build from there. We are not going into the first game of the season saying we are looking to win the league. We are just hoping to get a run going, and then you give yourself every chance.”