Larne defender Kofi Balmer insists he is already seeing the benefits from full-time football after making the switch to Inver Park in the summer.
The Mossley man racked up over 100 appearances for the Sky Blues after making his bow at the age of 16 but departed for pastures new ahead of the 2021/22 campaign.
The 21-year-old admits he had no problem settling into his new environment but had to take some time getting used to the physical aspects of full-time training.
“I have really enjoyed my time at Larne so far,” the big centre-half said.
“Transitioning from part-time into full-time wasn’t that difficult in terms of time management or anything like that, but it was more about the demands on your body.
“I’ve managed to get used to it and the routine under Tiernan and his staff.
“I feel like I’ve settled in well but I know I need to keep working hard.
“I will always be thankful to David Jeffrey, Bryan McLoughlin and everyone connected with Ballymena United for their development and it was hard to leave the club from that point of view.
“However, when you factor in the full-time element of a move to Larne, I just felt I might not get this opportunity again and I believed it work in my favour in terms of progressing my career.”
Balmer’s introduction to life at Inver Park couldn’t have started any better as Tiernan Lynch’s troops beat Bala Town and Aarhus to reach the third qualifying round of the Europa Conference League.
Despite going down to a contest defining first leg defeat to Pacos de Ferreira in Portugal, a determined Larne would win the second leg to restore some pride and cap off a memorable European run.
“It was a brilliant start to my time at Larne,” Balmer added.
“It was Larne’s first time in Europe which was an achievement in itself and then we went on a memorable run and to reach the third qualifying round was a bonus for everyone connected to the club.
“We know the result out in Portugal wasn’t the best but the experience we gained from that and the other games was brilliant.”
Balmer acknowledged he has been like a sponge when listening to advice from Albert Watson and Jeff Hughes – but it is lifting silverware that is his main objective during his time in east Antrim.
“Both Albert and Jeff have great experience,” he continued.
“Jeff played in England for the majority of his career and he’s so composed on the ball and is constantly telling me things that I can improve on.
“Albert is an old school defender and passes on advice about what to do and how to go about things which has been great.
“I hope I can play with them for a few more years yet.
“My ambition at Larne is to win. We are the holders of the County Antrim Shield and we want to retain that, we are in good position in the league and it won’t be long before the Irish Cup gets underway.
“All footballers want to win as many trophies as they can and I’m no different.
The Irish League has been well represented at international level as several players were called-up to the recent Northern Ireland under-21 squad – including Balmer who captained the side in the recent win against Lithuania.
“It is always an honour to pull on the green shirt and play for my country,” he confessed.
“My aim is to push on into the senior team and that would represent a big achievement and a dream come true.
“The Irish League has so many young players starring at the minute and it’s great to see such a clear pathway into first-team set-ups across the country.
“I made my debut at 16 and it just shows you that it doesn’t matter about age.
“The standard of the league is improving and it’s not necessarily old school football of just lumping the ball forward as more teams are getting the ball down and passing it.”
Balmer – who was crowned Ulster Young Footballer of the Year in 2019 – hasn’t closed a potential chapter of a full-time career over in the mainland.
“My main focus at the minute is on Larne and trying to help the club win trophies,” he concluded.
“All players I’m sure have aspirations of one day playing across the water and I’m no different.
“However, I won’t be forcing it as I’m still young and have plenty of time.
“If it doesn’t work out then I’m happy to play in the Irish League as the standard is improving and I’m already embracing a full-time environment.”