Ballinamallard United will begin their preparations for the Irish Cup encounter against Dergview tonight (Thursday) with the management and squad meeting up for their first session together since mid-December.

And, as Ducks Manager Harry McConkey explains, it will be in tune with the times that we are in, with the players all having to go through Covid testing before they can take part in training.

With the Irish Cup deemed an elite competition, clubs participating were permitted to commence full training under elite protocols from March 31, with these protocols including testing for players and coaching staff.

“The clubhouse has been designated as a testing centre for us so we will be asking the players to arrive half an hour earlier than they would normally, because it takes about 15 minutes to carry out the lateral flow test plus about ten minutes then to wait for the result of the test.

“Nobody will be allowed on to the training pitch, staff or player, until we have the results of the tests,” said McConkey.

The players must arrive to the ground on their own before undergoing the test, which will be under the supervision of the club’s Covid officers.

“We will have to carry out everything as we have been instructed and it will just be a case of everybody getting used to it and it becoming routine.

“Essentially, the players have the responsibility of testing themselves, but it will be supervised by the Covid officers who have completed IFA training on it this week, and they are informing everybody else of the procedures,” added McConkey.

So, what if a player tests positive?

“That individual must immediately go home and then they have to have a PCR test – the one carried out by the NHS – and if that is positive, they will have to isolate.

“However, because they would not have been in contact with the others in the group, the rest can continue as normal,” added the Mallards boss.

When the testing is completed, it will then be back on to the pitch and McConkey acknowledges that the players are looking forward to that.


“We haven’t trained together since mid-December, so it is almost 14 weeks and there is a certain amount of excitement now, because of all the deadlines we’ve had, this one is the most positive.

“I suppose all around us you are seeing a certain improvement in the health of the nation, and when you are hearing about days with no deaths, there is much more optimism about the future.

“It will be great for everybody to see each other in person and not through a screen, as has been the case.

“We can’t wait to get to the training ground, we will have the music on for our warm-up, and there will be a buzz about the place knowing that there is a clear target for us now to aim towards, which is May 1.”

The focus though needs to quickly turn to the cup clash with neighbours Dergivew, with the aim of getting players up to speed for a 90-minute game.

“It is a re-grouping and it is very much like another pre-season, and while it is a condensed one, it is one that gives you a sharp focus.

“Getting matches is very difficult at the moment but we are sitting with two confirmed, and we are waiting on another one while we hope to have our own in-house 11 v 11.

“That’s as much as we are going to get in the time available, and that’s fair enough, but we have to try and get the players up to a 90-minute standard.

“We will look to give players game time in that opening game, which is important.”

Since they last trained together, the Mallards have lost Matty Smyth and Ryan Mayse to Dungannon Swifts, while Micheál Glynn has joined Derry City.

“We have lost some very good players in Matty Smyth, Ryan Mayse and Micheál Glynn, but we understand the reason for them moving and those lads are good indicators that we had been doing good work with the lads previous to this.

“I feel we can also take heart with how quickly the likes of Matty and Ryan have settled in and got up to speed at Dungannon, having had no game time prior to their switches,” he said.


McConkey though is keen to focus on what he has and he says that last summer’s signing are eager to finally show what they can bring to the table for the Ferney Park club, to add to the quality that they already have.

“We brought in three Derry lads, Dean Curry, Niall Grace and Ryan Morrow, along with Matty Buchanan, but supporters haven’t had the chance to see them in a competitive match at home and they are all keen to make their mark.

“We also have some good youngsters coming through as well who want to ge