Jason McCartney celebrated his 300th Ballinamallard appearance with two goals and a man of the match performance against Dergview on Boxing Day.

The winger joined the Mallards nine years ago and has gone on to prove himself as one of the clubs most important ever signings.

In his first full season he played a starring role as the club secured a place in the Premier League for the first time in their history, and he has been an influential member of the squad ever since manager Whitey Anderson signed him from Sligo Rovers.

The 33 year old had never heard of Ballinamallard before that initial conversation, but he arrived at the club along with fellow Sligo man Steve Feeney in January 2011 and quickly made Ferney Park his new home.

“I didn’t think I would be around for so long,” he admitted.

“I was with so many clubs before coming to Ballinamallard and I thought I would go from club the club because that’s the way it is for a lot of people.

“From the moment I went to the club though I got a really good feeling about people there. It is a really friendly, family based club and I hoped that I would be there for a few years anyway, although I didn’t expect nine years!”

Saturday’s derby day clash against Dergview gave fans another reminder of his quality, as he scored twice and was awarded the man of the match award.

“I couldn’t believe I scored with a header and with my right foot,” he laughed.

“Harry came to me at the start of the day and told me to lead the boys out which was a lovely touch. I didn’t want it to be about my 300th game, what I wanted it to be about was getting another three points and get us another bit closer to getting promoted.

“The performance from the lads was brilliant. We had to be up for a battle because we know teams will try to stop us playing. Two goals and man of the match was great. It was nice to get it.”

The win kept the pressure on league leaders Portadown, and McCartney admits he would love a return to the top flight.

“I would love another crack at the Premier League,” he acknowledged.

“That is where we want to play and that has always been the aim for me since I came to the club. That has been driving me on. There is a long way to go but that has to be our aim as a group of players. We want to be competitive and I think we have a great chance. We are in a great position and we have to keep doing what we are doing, battle when we have to battle, and play when we can play.

“Not every game is going to be pretty but we have a real togetherness and the group all get on together. That is a massive plus for us and I have no doubt that by the end of the season we will be pushing for it.”

Despite his advancing years McCartney has been a regular starter in recent months, and he is determined to prove his worth to the manager and hold to a spot in the starting 11.

“I know I have to look after myself better and I have to train harder because there are young guys coming into the squad now and they have real quality,” he said.

“I had missed the first few weeks of pre-season because I was diagnosed with a disease in my eye and I had to get surgery. When I came back I played the first game but I wasn’t as sharp as I would like to be. Harry and I spoke about it and he said to me that I had missed some pre-season and we would see how things go.

“It was seven or eight games before I started again, but then I got my place back and really ever since I have been starting most games. Harry managed me very well in fairness to him. He spoke to me about it so I knew what I needed to do which was a massive help.”

McCartney has justified his place this season, netting his seventh goal of the league campaign on Boxing Day to move into second place in the club goal scoring charts behind Campbell. They are the latest in a long list of important goals for the club, but it was strikes against Limavady and Dungannon that he picks out as his best for the club.

“I scored a really nice goal first game of last season against Limavady from outside the box into the far top corner,” he recalled. “There was a game as well against Dungannon in the Premier League where I scored a hat-trick. One of those was from about 35 yards out and it fell for a volley and I lobbed the keeper. That was a nice one as a memory.”

One of his most important goals for the club came in last season’s Irish Cup quarter final win against Dungannon. It earned them the right to win the penalty shoot-out and set up one of the high points of his time at the club.

“The cup run last year was massive for me and the semi-final win against Warrenpoint was special,” he said. “The semi-final was great because we were able to enjoy the win and celebrate it. We had time to take in that we got to a cup final. The cup final was a day I will never forget but we would have enjoyed it more if we had won. That will always be a day in my head and I will never forget how good it felt to be able to bring that happiness to the Ballinamallard people.”

That cup run has inspired Jay to create more memories before he calls time on his playing career, with the winger vowing to keep playing for as long as he is continues to enjoy it. “I have been telling my wife for the last three years that I’m going to retire,” he said, “but I’m just going to take it year by year and see how I’m feeling. When I’m not enjoying it I am going to hang up the boots, but while I’m still enjoying it and feeling good and feeling fit then I’m going to keep going. If Rocket can do it then I can give it a go too!”