With a 22 game NIFL Championship campaign now been given a provisional start date of Saturday November 28, Ballinamallard United manager Harry McConkey acknowledges that the league this year will be more of a sprint than a marathon and any side with promotion aspirations cannot afford many slip ups.

“Every team will be feeling that they have to get out of the blocks pretty sharp. It is a season where you simply cannot afford many slip ups, there is not a lot of room for errors,” said McConkey, who believes though that it was no surprise that the NIFL board cut the season to only 22 games.

“Realistically, it had to be 22 games. There was a lot of favour for 27 games initially but after the start date being put back it would take us to May to finish our league campaign and then allowing for inclement weather postponements, Irish Cup and still a possible League Cup then clearly 22 games was probably their only realistic option,” he added.

McConkey acknowledges that at present November 28 is a provisional date and as such that could change if the current restrictions don’t work but he does believe that it is good to have that date to work towards.

“We are very aware that it is a provisional date but it is good to have something there. It is a light for my committee, players and the supporters at the end of a dark tunnel and it is much needed at this difficult time,” he said.

Under current restrictions Ballinamallard are only allowed to train in a small group for non-contact, non-ball based sessions.

McConkey says that this is making preparations for the season complex and more challenging.

“Every single session I have tried making the training enjoyable for players but this is one of the most testing times of all for us.

“Trying to vary things up and be creative without the ball is tough at the minute but that’s what we have been trying to do.

“It’s testing and difficult but we must keep going until the restrictions are lifted “ he said.

He does though feel that it is important that they are at least able to do some sort of training.

“We are grateful that at least we are able to get out and do something and it is important for these young players that we get them out in the fresh air and get them exercising.

“That helps them and helps clear the head, especially as they are out among their friends.

“We just have to accept that there is going to be limitations on that for a while before we can get back into proper training. You will need that period after the restrictions where you can work with a ball on your organisation of set pieces, your team shape and tactics,” he said.

He does though question why they can’t do certain non contact things with a ball.

“I do believe like in June we would be able to work on technical drills where the boys at least get that feel of the ball constantly and be able to work on basic things like control, passing, crossing and set play deliveries without any contact or risk.

“That’s the bit were I feel that the IFA has made a blanket decision and in some ways it has not been thought through,” stated the Ducks boss.

It was also disappointing for him to see the club categorised as a non elite club.

“We have proved over a period of time that we could do exactly what the Premiership clubs are doing for their communities but unfortunately, while they could start back we were stopped in our tracks without warning.

“However, we can’t put negative energy into something we have no control over like the thinkings of the IFA and NIFL.

“We must be adaptable, work through this together as a community and keep that perspective of offering hope and health to our young people balanced with the safety of the vulnerable,” he concluded.