Ballinamallard centre back Matty Smyth believes the loss of influential centre back partner Ryan O’Reilly will not have an adverse impact on the squad, as they prepare to kick-off the Championship season.

O’Reilly and Smyth build up a formidable partnership at the heart of the Mallard’s defence in recent years, but Smyth believes the quality in defence will be a strong point of the team this season as they bid for promotion back to the top flight, with Smyth competing against Ben McCann, Ross Taheny, Ryan Morris and new signing, Dean Curry, for a spot in the defence.

“With the quality of players we have, and the different options we have at centre back, it shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “Ryan will be a big miss, the calibre of player he is.

“It is no surprise that Cliftonville came in for him because he was a stand-out performer in his time at the club, but in the pre-season games we were getting a feel for how each other played, and I think we should complement each other quite well, no matter who gets the nod to start.

“Sometimes we will play four at the back, and sometimes we will play three centre backs, and it’s good to have that depth to the squad in case we do switch it about.”

The recent restrictions preventing contact training were the latest disruption to a stop start pre-season, but despite the interruptions, Matty reckons they will be in good shape when they finally get round to competitive football.

“Pre-season has been good, considering the length of time it has gone on for,” he said.

“Generally, players don’t like pre-season, with the amount of fitness and running. We got the footballs into it and got a few games and were getting started, before we were hit with the blow that we weren’t getting started.

“Then we got the word we could train without the football, and it’s all been a bit frustrating.

“We have been in since the end of June doing fitness, but it has to be done so we are sharp when we do get up and running. It has been tough since we started back, and the sessions have been tough.

“It has been fitness and running and strength work, and it has been a test on the body, and it has been tough, but it has been going well.

“It has been a good turn-out from the boys as well which I think is important to keep the squad together.”

Ballinamallard have been handed a tricky start with a tie against Loughgall, first up, but the squad cannot wait for the long wait to come to an end.

“It is a tough start but we have been looking for matches for a long time, so it will just be a case of being glad to get back at it after all the hard work we have put in,” said Matty.

“I think all the games in the league this year will be tough, especially now it is just 22 games.

“We will have to come out of the blocks a lot faster than other seasons, when we have started quite slowly. We will be looking forward to it and, hopefully, we will be able to put together a good start after those opening games.”

With last season’s frustrations still fresh in the mind of the players, the squad are in no doubt about their aims for the season ahead.

“We were hard done by last year but that has gone now, and we can’t be thinking about that any more,” he admitted.

“The three players that we brought in from Institute will all add quality to the squad, and that is the competition we want within the squad to keep everyone fighting for their position and make sure the standard is good in training each week.

“Going into this season, it will be a fresh start and we will be trying to pick up as many points as we can.

“We managed to hold on to the majority of the players from last year which is very good and says a lot about the coaching staff and the other players in the squad.

“Hopefully, now we can repay them by going up this season.”