Ballinamallard manager Harry McConkey accepts that Championship clubs are more vulnerable than ever this January to having their players cherry picked by top flight clubs with Dungannon Swifts having already moved for Mallards centre half Matty Smyth and attacker Ryan Mayse.

McConkey acknowledges that even in normal times clubs are always in danger of losing their top players to Premiership clubs during the January window - but with the Championship still to kick off they will find it harder than ever to hold on to their prized possessions this month.

In other years, the chance of pushing on for promotion with the likes of Mallards may have kept players at the club at least to the end of the season but the uncertainty that surrounds the Championship leaves them open to having their players plucked by Premiership sides.

“Look, even pre Covid the January window has always held a certain trepidation for Championship managers who had players who were excelling themselves and catching the eye.

“It is something that we have always had, to be truthful, and we need to keep that in perspective,” said McConkey.

“But, at this particular time, with the complication of having had no league campaign up and running yet, it is extremely difficult to offer your players a carrot.

“Players want to play and there has been so many false promises of start dates for the Championship but players can look at the Premiership and see that matches continue to go ahead with a lot less disruption than ourselves who have not got off the mark,” said the Ducks boss.

Indeed, McConkey says that, given the situation, he would be reluctant to stand in any players way if they have the chance to go and play in the Premiership.

“I don’t think, as a manager, at this moment and time, you would stop any player.

“If we were playing we would have something to offer them to stay but how can you go to players with a return date that could be pie in the sky, you don’t want to do that.

“We all have complete empathy with the players situation,” he said.

And he says losing players is a fear for many Championship managers this month with Premiership clubs also able to offer financial rewards that Championship clubs simply can’t do at this time.

“I have spoken to several managers in our league and they all have the same fear that we are much more vulnerable to Premiership clubs attracting our players to their club because they are able to use the unfortunate state that we are in to their advantage.

“Obviously, there is finances involved as well, a young player was maybe hoping to have finances coming in at Championship level but it is simply not happening,” he added.