Harry McConkey declared himself very happy with his side’s pre-season progress, as they stepped up their preparations with a 2-2 draw against Premier League opponents Warrenpoint. The clash between the sides could have been a crucial promotion play-off but instead was merely the Mallard’s first test of the new season against top flight opposition.

They fell behind to an early goal, but two strikes from Chris Kelly put them ahead before Warrenpoint grabbed an equaliser.

Having faced a succession of Fermanagh and Western teams, Warrenpoint was a step up in quality and intensity for the players. The Mallards faced a much changed ‘Point side that are looking to improve on last season’s 11th placed finish in the Premier League. They have invested heavily over the summer, welcoming 14 players into their squad, with ex Mallard Stuart Hutchinson among their new look team. Despite the quality of the opposition, Harry McConkey thought his side coped very well with the challenge.

“Overall, I was very happy with what we got out of the game,” he admitted.

“In the first couple of minutes we gave away a needless corner and the ball is whipped in and they scored. The response of the team from that was fantastic. We stuck with our game plan which was to play through them and match them out of possession and in possession. We had to be sharper all around and I felt we retained an awful lot of the ball very well, but there were times I felt we needed to test their keeper a bit more.”

“The first goal that we scored was a joy. We had done some work during the week on wide areas and getting their head up and picking people out and making an aggressive run to the near post which is often something we fail on. Ryan Campbell rolled his man out wide and held him off and put a great ball into the six yard box where Chris was steaming in from midfield.

"That goal gave us great satisfaction. We felt that everyone that got on the park gave a really good performance, and they were very valuable minutes for all of them at greater intensity.”

Ballinamallard had some new faces of their own on show on Saturday. Full back Ryan Morrow, midfielder Niall Grace and central defender Matthew Buchanan all had a run out on Saturday, with former Institute captain Dean Currie among several players currently on the injury list.

“The new boys have settled very well,” said McConkey. “Dean Currie has a little bit of a groin niggle and we didn’t want to aggravate that unnecessarily at this stage. He did a bit of work with our physio and it is looking positive, but it will probably be the Dungannon match before we would consider looking at him.

"Ben McCann is also struggling with a groin injury since the Tummery game and we didn’t want to take any risks with him either but he will be pushing to be back maybe next week. Matthew Buchanan had six stitches so we will wait on the advice of the medical people, although knowing Matthew he will be determined to play. We are seeking advice on that and we aren’t going to take any risks.”

The one area of the pitch that the manager is still looking to address is another attacking addition, and he is still hoping Ryan Mayse may return for another season at the club.

“Talks are continuing with Ryan,” Harry revealed. “We are happy with what we have in the squad, but we would like to tie something up in the front line and that would be the next area to target.”

Several players have also left the club ahead of the season. Mark Hannon and Callum Frampong have departed, as have Lee Frazer and Simon Warrington. Warrington had spent 17 years at the club, joining mini soccer at four years of age, but he has joined Fivemiletown this season in a bid to get some more playing time.

“We did not want to lose him, but we understand his frustration at lack of game time and must respect his decision,” said Harry.

“He is clearly determined to make his mark and hopefully catch our eye and come back. Lee Frazer walked into our club from Mountjoy Utd late on at the end of August 2019. He had overcome a serious illness the year before and was really looking forward to helping us challenge in 2019 -20 season.

"Unfortunately, he then received word that he had to go in for major shoulder surgery in October 2019 and that meant he had a long rehab period. Lee was just getting going again in February when then Covid 19 struck. He has been desperately unlucky in that respect.

"Lee informed me several clubs had approached him and he was concerned he might not get the game time quickly enough this year and could he go out on an agreed loan to Fivemiletown with the intention of hoping to return in the future.

"We have formed a good relationship with Chris McDowell at Fivemiletown and I know he is an excellent coach who will monitor these two lads and we will not hesitate to recall them if the time is right for all concerned.”

Ballinamallard’s next test comes against Cliftonville on Saturday at 2pm on Ferney Park.

The game was originally scheduled for Solitude, but the Belfast club have asked to switch the venue.

“They contacted me to ask if they could come to us because they were hearing great reports about our pitch. Mervyn Nixon and Alan Hurst have done such a good job that they are queueing up to play on it,” revealed Harry.

“We have been delighted by the number of people that have felt safe to come out and enjoy being back at Ferney. We are pleased we are able to do that for them and I hope we give a good account of ourselves again and people see that we can compete. It is pre-season and very early days but we have shown that are not far away from teams like Warrenpoint.”