RICHARD Clarke believes promotion has to be the target for Ballinamallard United next season after the Ducks’ amazing Tennents Irish Cup run ended in a bitterly disappointing defeat to Crusaders in Saturday’s showpiece decider at the National Stadium.
Goals by Jordan Owens, Philip Lowry and Ross Clarke secured a fourth Irish Cup triumph for Stephen Baxters’s Crues to end any hopes the Mallards had of a fairytale ending to what had been a thrilling cup adventure.
The skipper though firmly believes that if United can build on the positives of an extremely successful second half of the season which included the shared experience of reaching Saturday’s cup final, then a return to the top flight has to be the aim next season.
“I think Harry, myself and the back-room team are of the same opinion. I think we can use this as a positive from where we where in October November,” said the Castlederg man.
“It is a bonus that we are here today. You don’t want to lose cup finals but I think we need to take the positives out of it, in how the community has got behind us and the feel-good factor around the club. For us now its about dusting ourselves down, going away, getting a good rest and coming back in pre-season and really having that hunger and desire.
“Some of the lads have tasted it today and for us promotion has to be a realistic target. If the hunger and desire is there, I have no doubt Harry will look to add to the squad and hopefully we can kick on.”
In Saturday’s showpiece final an early Owens goal scuppered the Mallards best laid plans and from that moment on there was only ever going to be one winner.
McConkey’s side remained in contention at the interval but two goals in six minutes on the resumption of the second period ended all hope for the Championship outfit.
Clarke admitted the Crues had done a number on his team which had defeated Premiership opponents Dungannon Swifts and Warrenpoint Town in reaching the final.
“Their game plan was based on how we play and I think that is testament to how we have set up this year, the belief Harry has in our system and how we want to play,” added Clarke.
“Stephen (Baxter) came into the changing room afterwards and congratulated us on the cup run, our performance.
“Crusaders have been preparing for this game over the past four weeks. Because of Europe they had put all their eggs in the Irish Cup basket.
“They have had us watched and that is great credit to us that they based their game plan around that. They stopped that flow that we had in the semi-final, overall their game plan worked and got them the trophy.”
Conceding that early Owens header was a real hammer blow but Clarke felt the second goal by Philip Lowry just two minutes into the second period was the one that ended the Mallards ambitions of pulling of what would have been the greatest shock in Irish Cup history.
“Losing the early goal was a blow but we gathered ourselves pretty quickly. I have been in Crusaders teams and once they go a goal up they go for the throat.
“Going in 1-0 down at half-time was OK but the second goal was the biggest killer. Two nil down in a cup final against Crusaders is pretty difficult and then the third came soon after that. For us it was a case of consolidation then. For us as players and the coaching staff at 3-0 you realise its gone and from then you try and see the game out as professionally as you can and not get embarrassed as such.”
REPORT, PICTURES AND REACTION IN TOMORROW’S TYRONE HERALD