Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey: I thought my days in a dug-out were over

By Steven Beacom

The biggest name in Irish League football is back in Irish League management and David Jeffrey says he returns with a better understanding of the game.

Ballymena United have not just appointed a new boss, they have landed an iconic figure in the local game.

And one who, in a wide ranging interview with the Belfast Telegraph, openly admits he felt his days in a dug-out were over.

When this newspaper revealed last week that Ballymena had pinpointed former Linfield boss Jeffrey as their number one target following the dismissal of Glenn Ferguson, many inside the game predicted the Braidmen had no chance.

There are strong arguments that Ferguson should never have been sacked in the first place after guiding the Sky Blues to an impressive four finals and two trophies during his four years at the helm, but there is no debate that the Showgrounds board have pulled off an almighty coup to persuade 53-year-old Jeffrey to take over.

During 17 and a half years as Linfield manager, this larger than life character won a staggering 31 trophies, the domestic clean sweep and six league and Irish Cup doubles in seven years.

Since he departed Windsor Park in 2014, the Blues have yet to win a trophy.

Prior to his management days he was a winner as a player for Linfield and he intends to bring that mentality to Ballymena, a club who he says made him feel wanted from the opening phone call to ascertain his interest in the vacant post.

Jeffrey agreed a three-year contract with United on Monday. His first game back as a boss in the Danske Bank Premiership is away to champions and league leaders Crusaders on Saturday.

Ballymena are five points above bottom spot in the table... quite the contrast for a man more used to fighting for titles at the other end.

It is approaching two years since his last game as Linfield manager. He states back then he never thought he would return to a dug-out.

"My last game for Linfield was against Glenavon and we won pretty comfortably. It very much had that end of season feel," he recalls.

"The players were keen to give me a good send off. The match itself maybe wasn't the biggest thing, it was more the occasion.

"My feeling in the dug-out that day was 'that's it, I'll never be back'. I said then that my time at Linfield was up but I wasn't finished with football. If truth be told, though, I never really imagined myself being back in a dug-out.

"I had 17 and a half years as manager of Linfield Football Club and felt that was it. And also I was bringing to an end the guts of 30 years with Linfield because I had been there for 10 years as a player."

Jeffrey continued to watch Irish League games, becoming a respected radio and TV pundit and writing a popular column for the Sunday Life.

He adds: "I enjoyed what I did after leaving Linfield, be that writing a column, working for radio or television and I saw my new role as advocating for Irish League football and giving it a platform.

"I didn't think that would change and then this opportunity came up and the more I thought about it the more I felt it was an opportunity that I wanted to take.

"I would not have thought that Ballymena would have wanted to approach me, but now that I am manager I can assure the Ballymena fans, players and board I will give my best at all times for the club."

Jeffrey claims that his spell away from the pressure cooker of management will make him a more balanced and well rounded boss.

"I feel I now have a better understanding of all of the various parts of football. For instance I went on the bus with Linfield fans to a Cliftonville game which gave me a great perspective of fans and how they see matches," he says.

"I have gone to games and been invited into boardrooms and have more appreciation of how boards have to work and function.

"In my media roles I have publicly assessed games and players which has offered me another perspective. It has also been interesting to me hearing what managers say after games. Sometimes they can see matches completely differently, yet I have understood where they have both been coming from.

"And also I feel I know more about referees and what they go through even if some people think I have been overly harsh on referees when giving my opinion.

"I would like to think all round I have a better balance and knowledge of more aspects of the game which will help me with Ballymena United."

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