Darragh McBrien has admitted that it was a tough decision to leave Ballinamallard United, but he felt the time was right to take the next step in his footballing development and challenge himself with Premiership football.

“It was definitely a difficult decision to leave,” admitted the 20-year-old.

“Clubs had come in for me last season, but Harry and the club have been very good to me in recent seasons.

“I know I haven’t made it easy for them, going back and forward with the Gaelic, but any time I came in they were very welcoming in working with me, and I really appreciated it, so at that time I thought I owed it to the boys to stay with them.”

Darragh had hoped that he could help propel the Mallards into the top flight last season, but those hopes were dashed by the cancellation of the NIFL Championship season, leaving Ballinamallard consigned to another season outside the top league.

Darragh admits if he had been able to seal promotion with the Mallards, then he may not have moved on.

“It’s hard to say when it hasn’t happened, but it definitely would have made the decision a lot harder,” he acknowledged.

“Harry, Steve, Craig, Brian the fitness coach, and all the boys have been very helpful. They all know their stuff.

“Harry has been great at teaching me things, and I’ve been able to learn from the older, more experienced boys like Clarkey and Mono. I have been picking up bits and pieces from everyone.

“I really thought we would have been able to get promoted last year, but then the coronavirus hit and we didn’t get a season, so now I feel it is the right time to move on and move up a level.”

The Queens University student was a player in demand, with a series of eye-catching displays for Ballinamallard attracting the attention of numerous Premier League clubs, but after discussions, Darragh decided his best option was to join ex-Mallards including Matty Smyth and Ryan Mayse at Dungannon under the management of Dean Shiels.

“We had a game against Dungannon against their under-20s and I scored two goals, and I think I impressed him that night,” Darragh recalled.

‘The best place for me’

“Dean contacted Harry after that, saying he would like to get a chat to me. I was speaking to a few clubs at that time, but I went up and chatted, and I thought it was the best place for me.

“Dean’s style of play is similar to the way Harry wants to play, and I think it suits me. He wants to play passing football and getting the ball to feet and running at boys, so it suits my style.

“I was speaking to Matty about the move, and I know Maysey and a few of the younger boys from the team as well, so I know a lot of them up there.

“Travel-wise, it is close to home, and it’s not too far away from my house in Belfast too, so it all seemed to fit into place.”

Dungannon had a difficult campaign, finishing bottom of the Premier League with only four wins all season.

Darragh is confident that Manager Dean Shiels, who was appointed in March, can rectify that as he looks to bring in his own signings, and many Mallard supporters believe McBrien could turn out to be an inspired capture for Swifts if he can replicate the impressive form he produced at Ferney Park.

If Darragh can fulfil his potential, then a full-time career in football could be a realistic target, but he remains realistic about his future options.

“It’s not something I would be dead set on, but it is something I would be interested in if the chance arose,” he said.

“I am more worried out my education first, to get a degree completed and then see what happens from there.”