After 11 seasons at Ferney Park, Jason McCartney will get to say an emotional goodbye to Ballinamallard at his testimonial on Saturday.

The Sligo native made a huge contribution to the Mallards Premier League success story following his arrival at the club in 2011, capturing the Championship Player of the Year award as they sealed promotion in his first season, and then playing a key part in their Premier League success before helping them reach the Irish Cup Final in 2019.

Jason’s Ballinamallard career came to an abrupt end in January when work obligations meant he was unable to commit to the squad for the remainder of the season, but he is delighted that he now has the opportunity to say a proper farewell.

“When I stopped playing in January I was a bit upset because I felt like I didn’t get to say the goodbye I wanted to the supporters and everyone round the club,” he said.

“The testimonial had been mentioned to me at the start of the season when I signed back with the club by a few people on the committee like Tom Elliott, and Wendy and Helen on the ladies committee, but I never really thought much about it at that stage. For me it’s a bit out of my comfort zone, but it was brought up again and I thought it would be the perfect way after ten years to say thanks to everyone who was so good to me.”

McCartney’s retirement coincided with the ten year anniversary of Ballinamallard’s Championship success, so Jay decided that it would be perfect opportunity to bring back some of the club’s best known faces to take part in a day that will bring stir many memories for those involved in the Mallard’s rise to the top flight.

“I was chatting to Whitey Anderson and we realised it was the 10 year anniversary of winning the Championship, and we felt it would be a great idea to get in touch with as many of the championship winning boys as we could,” he explained.

“I’ve also invited the likes of Shane McCabe, Ryan Mayse, Chris Crilly, Cathal Beacom, Alvin Rouse, Ryan Campbell and Matty Smyth is coming back from England as well. I tried to bring back players that had a big influence on the club over the years, and had a big influence on myself over the years. I thought it would be a good opportunity to have those people who were around you and experienced those times with you. They are going to be playing the Ballinamallard team from this year, but I am going to play for the oldies. I’ve already signed Stafford up for our side as well!”

Since Jason left Ferney Park he has taken up a coaching role alongside Steve Feeney with Sligo Ladies team, but he admits the buzz of a match day has been hard to replace.

“I struggled for the first couple of months. Arriving at the ground and meeting up with the lads, that buzz and atmosphere in the dressing room, is something I really miss,” he admitted. “I am in with Steve on Tuesday and Thursdays for training, but I can’t get to the games which is a bit frustrating because its always nice to be part of the match day. I’m enjoying it, but it won’t replace playing.”

Looking back on his Ballinamallard experiences, Jason highlights the Championship win in his first season and the Irish Cup Final as two big highlights of his time at the club.

“Winning the championship was such a great start, and the Irish Cup final was special,” he recalled. “The whole build up, the atmosphere before it, going through the town on the bus. and everyone on streets waving you off with their flags out. Seeing the crowd we brought, and all the people of Ballinamallard in the stand. The whole atmosphere. It was always a dream of mine to play in a cup final. Unfortunately, we got beaten but it was the whole day. It was brilliant.”

The testimonial kicks off on Ferney Park at 2pm on Saturday, and Jay is hoping for a large crowd as he looks to thank everyone for making his time at the club so special.

“For me personally when I joined Ballinamallard I was kind of falling out of love with football,” he admitted. “A lot of people up there often say to me that I came to the Ballinamallard at a time when they needed someone like me, but to be honest I needed Ballinamallard at that time as well. It was a perfect time for me. I had just left Sligo Rovers and had joined a local team and I was enjoying playing with my mates, but I didn’t know if I wanted to go back into that level of football. When I moved to Ballinamallard I thought I would give it another go, and it was the best thing that happened to me. It was the best time of my life.”