Ballinamallard captain Richard Clarke believes the team’s performances in pre-season have already shown that the club can look forward to the upcoming NIFL Championship campaign with confidence.

The provisional start of the season is still two months away and pre-season results are often a poor reflection of how the season will transpire, but the experienced midfielder reckons the youngsters who are getting a chance are grabbing their opportunity.

“We have a lot of exciting youngsters coming through who have really shone in pre-season,” said Clarke.

“Although we have lost the likes of Ryan (O’Reilly) and Sean (McEvoy) and Nathan (Cashel), Reece Byrne and Dara Byrne, his brother, have come through and really caught the eye. Michael Glynn has come back as has Dara McBrien and everyone is looking hungry.

“I’m sure Harry is working hard to bring some quality into the squad and improve the team because to get promoted and improve and win things you have to have a big squad.

“There’s going to be a lot of competition for places. In my experience that really drives people on, and people are looking over their shoulders now. If they are in the team they want to stay in the team.”

To date Ballinamallard pre-season matches have come mainly against local sides, and Clarke believes the games have been a good test for the team as they continue to work on their fitness and their preparations.

“The start is still far away but at the minute the team is in a bit of rhythm and a bit of normality,” he said.

“It’s good to be back and good to be out training after being out for so long. We still have a right bit to go yet and we are building up slowly but surely.

“In fairness, we have hit some big scores, but a lot of credit needs to go to the Fermanagh and Western players that we have played against us. I have been really impressed by all the teams.

“I had lost track of Fermanagh and Western football a bit but all the teams we have played have played a good brand of football and they have real quality in their teams.

“They are potential banana skins for us but we have been professional in all the games and had some good results and some good performances.

“We have friendlies coming up against the likes of Warrenpoint, Dungannon, Cliftonville and Crusaders and we know we have to step it up a wee bit. We know they will be tough games but we will enjoy it, try to get a good performance and get our fitness up.”

Several years ago, games against those big name clubs were competitive matches, and Richard admits that everyone at the club is desperate to get back into the top flight and have the Premier League clubs visit Ferney Park on a regular basis.

“We haven’t sat down as a group and talked about it, but I think the expectation that we have put on ourselves is to pick up where we left off last year.

“I still have that monkey on my back from the relegation, but there is such a big determination from my point of view and from the likes of Harry and the rest of the boys that we are there to get us back into the Premiership .

“Obviously, the end of last season was difficult to take because we were in a play-off position and that was taken away from us, but the club have an identity and a purpose, and they know where they want to go. It’s an exciting time to be around the club.”

The 34 year old was a key member of the team that came so close last season, and he had no hesitation to committing to the club again this season.

“I am really enjoying my football at the minute,” he revealed. “Until I’m told otherwise I will be about for a wee bit longer yet. I’m really enjoying my football at this stage of my career and that’s what I’m looking for.

“This is my fourth year now and I’ve really grown fond of the club. With Harry still there it’s an incentive for me as well because he is a great leader of men.

“First and foremost, he treats you like an adult. He gives us much more than just being a manager. He looks out for us as a person and that is all you can ask for. We have a good man with Harry at the helm.”