Sligo links in Ballinamallard success
IT IS the fairytale story of the Irish League.
A team from a small village outside Enniskillen taking the Premier Division by storm. Central to Ballinamallard United's success are a number of former Sligo Rovers players.
As Rovers continue to bask in the glory of the club's first League of Ireland triumph in 35 years, a 'Red Revolution' is also hitting the headlines cross-border.
Five ex-Rovers players are on the books at Ferney Park in County Fermanagh. They are Steve Feeney, Conor O'Grady, Danny Keohane, Jason McCartney and Alvin Rouse. Another, Liam Martin, is on loan. Ballinamallard were promoted last season and are enjoying an outstanding season in the top flight, despite last Saturday's 3-1 home defeat to leaders, Cliftonville. It has been a remarkable journey. Steve Feeney began it last term.
With Galway United having their own troubles, Feeney decided to leave the Tribesmen and take the chance to join Ballinamallard with McCartney and another ex-Rovers player, Chris Kelly, and Keohane.
Steve said: "The timing was good for me. We had a great season last year and went up as champions. Everyone would have been happy with a top four finish, but it was great to actually win the league."
A good run around Christmas set Cecil (Whitey) Anderson's side on their way and they haven't looked back since.
Steve said: "We pushed on in February and March and went on a good run of games."
Ballinamallard found themselves in with the 'big boys' of the Irish League.
Feeney believes the efforts of fitness and conditioning coach, Ryan Whitely, at the start of the campaign was a big boost. "We got a good start and that was a help," Steve said.
Steve spent last season up front in a 44-2 formation.
With the need for a more defensive formation required in some games this term, he now also finds himself in midfield in a 4-3-3 line-up.
Steve explained: "I had a few little knocks early on and was not fully fit for a number of weeks, but it's going well now." Ironically, Feeney played for Sligo Rovers under Don O'Riordan is a preseason friendly in Ballinamallard a number of years ago. Little could he have envisaged then that he would be back as a member of 'The Mallards' squad.
Steve said: "The club has come on massively. They went about things the right way. They worked on the youth set up and the pitches and now we are pushing on." The aim now is to finish as high as possible-but Steve says the players are not getting carried away.
He said: "There are a lot of games left yet to the split in the league. There's a long way to go but we're delighted with the start."
Conor O'Grady admits that signing for Ballinamallard has "revitalised" him as a player. He said: "It's great to be involved again. "It may not be as good a league as the League of Ireland. It is different. It is more attacking."
O'Grady described Ballinamallard as a strong community club.
He said: "I describe it as Collooney having a team in the Airtricity League.
"Enniskillen is about six miles away and we have had crowds of 700 to 800 in the past. With the visit of teams like Linfield, we should get more."
O'Grady is recovering from an ankle ligament injury picked up in a game against Donegal Celtic.
He said: "I was enjoying it again and it's good that there are so many Sligo players involved. It helps even in the travelling.
"Hopefully, we can keep a good run going."