BALLINAMALLARD United Manager Harry McConkey has confirmed that the Ducks intend to take their place in this season’s Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup, with the Mallards set to host neighbours Dergview in the first round of the competition.

The decision to grant elite status for the cup means that participating non-Premiership clubs can start full training from Wednesday, March 31, with the elite status maintained until they exit the cup.

Having been denied elite status to play in the league, many Championship clubs will understandably feel used by the IFA to simply play this year’s Irish Cup, and a number have already indicated that they will opt out.

However, McConkey states that the players were just keen to get back on the pitch.

“The players wanted to play, and it was very pleasing to see that the club is right behind the players and that they are trying their very best to make the experience of going back to play as safe and as pleasurable for them, despite the financial implications that come with it,” said McConkey.

“We have tried to put to the back of our minds some of what we would feel are the injustices dealt to us with regards not being able to play for so long this season, as that is an area that we are clearly not in control of.

“What we have is an opportunity now to make the best of this small window of football for the good of everybody at the club.”

Indeed, the Mallards boss says that it is good to be able to concentrate on football again.

“There was great excitement that we were back talking about football again, and not about the politics surrounding NIFL and the IFA or Covid, and everything that this terrible virus has brought with it.

‘Value each other’s company’

“It is good to have a focus on what we are most comfortable with, which is preparing for football games. My boys are all really looking forward to getting back to simply meeting each other, and while we will be developing their fitness alongside the technical and tactical side of their game, we shall value each other’s company and time together more than anything else.”

McConkey also says that the Mallards will use this period to prepare for next season as well.

“We see ourselves in a situation where we want to start some preparation for next year. While it is only elite status for the Irish Cup, it is presenting us with the opportunity to train with the full group; it is allowing us to get some games in, and I think that is very valuable preparation for next season.”

While having not confirmed their participation, it is expected that Dergview will play in the competition, and although the game is fixed for Tuesday, April 27, at Ferney Park, that date can be changed to Saturday, May 1, at the agreement of both clubs.

“The game can be played on May 1 if both clubs agree, and I obviously cannot speak for Dergview FC but I would imagine that date would be beneficial for both as it gives you that little longer to prepare the players after such a long lay-off,” said McConkey, who has confirmed that the Mallards will play a number of friendly games in preparation for the cup tie.

“We have a number of friendlies lined up; we have Annagh United at home on April 10, and we have Portstewart away on April 17.

“We are hoping to play Dungannon on April 21, but it is not confirmed yet, and we are considering possibly one more,” he explained.

And he is expecting a tough test when the close rivals meet on the Ferney pitch. “We will be preparing for a really difficult challenge, and a game that players love to play in.

“I have been fortunate to manage both sides so I know exactly what it means to both sets of players, staff and supporters.

“While I know for sure everything will be given on the day to claim a place in the next round of the Irish Cup, in the bigger picture it will simply be great to host our neighbours, Dergview FC, while welcoming competitive football back to this part of the country, which has been starved of it for so long,” he said.