David Jeffrey will go down as a true Linfield legend
Published 17/02/2014 | 09:30
David Jeffrey was bristling. The passion that he has brought to Linfield Football Club as man and boy was oozing out of him as he stood in the tunnel at Windsor Park.
A few hours earlier, Linfield had announced that their manager and figurehead was leaving at the end of the season.
Here he was in a television interview, following Saturday's comprehensive 6-0 victory over Ballinamallard United, sharpening his tongue about the title race, declaring that the Blues were ready for the fight and challenging anyone who had the temerity to question the character of his players.
Cliftonville defender Marc Smyth did that a few weeks ago after his side beat Linfield at Solitude. I've done the same myself in this newspaper.
Great managers are driven on by different things. For Jeffrey – and make no mistake, he is a great manager – it has always been a fear of failure and a fierce determination to prove others wrong.
Smyth shouldn't worry though... big Davy's bark is worse than his bite.
I've fallen out with him a few times and we've always kissed and made up... him doing the kissing on the forehead so, come April, the Cliftonville defender can expect a smacker when Jeffrey finally walks away from the job he loves.
What a Grand Canyon sized hole he will leave, not just at Windsor, but throughout Irish League football. I'm not saying he'll never manage a team here again, but it's virtually impossible to imagine him gesticulating and shouting out orders from any other dug-out bar Linfield's.
Jeffrey's decision to make public that he was standing down in a couple of months initially came as a surprise, not least the timing of it, just an hour before Saturday's kick-off.
Reflect some more, though, and there were clues it was coming.
In a typically honest and thought provoking interview a year ago, Jeffrey told me he had offered to go last season.
When you have been boss of a club like Linfield for anything longer than five years, working in that high pressure win at all costs environment, it becomes a case of when, not if, you will depart the role.
It's astonishing to think, then, that Jeffrey has lasted 17 years, starting out in January 1997 when John Major was Prime Minister, Tiger Woods had not claimed a major title and Sir Alex Ferguson had only won three championships with Manchester United.
What followed at Windsor was extraordinary... doubles, trebles, Grand Slams, nine league titles and 30 trophies.
He banged the Linfield drum long before as a young supporter, hiding his blue scarf on the bus as he made his way from Glentoran loving east Belfast to cheer on his team, and as a inspirational player, influential captain and insightful coach giving his all every day to the cause.
Irish League is labelled part-time football but this has been a full-time occupation for 51-year-old Jeffrey, who somehow found time to combine it with his 'real job' as a respected social worker. He must live 36 hour days!
The time is right for him and his forever supportive family to step away... and at least now he's doing it on his own terms without an undignified sacking from members of the board, some of whom wanted him out years ago. Yes, for all the silverware he has delivered, the Linfield family has often been split on DJ.
From now until the last game of his remarkable reign, players, fans and the board should feel the need to rally together and send him away on the high he deserves by winning the County Antrim Shield final against Crusaders and the Irish League title race with Cliftonville.
Jeffrey's old boss Roy Coyle won 31 trophies at Linfield... another driving force which the north Belfast duo may find hard to stop.
Mind you, even without more pots for the cabinet, big Davy will still leave as a Linfield legend.
His replacement? I'm not sure he wants it, but my choice would be Ballymena United boss Glenn Ferguson.
No matter who gets the gig, it'll be like taking over from Sir Alex.
That's the status the great David Jeffrey holds in Irish League football.