Leading Ballymena United to Europe one of my greatest nights: David Jeffrey
Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey has revealed that winning last night's Europa League play-off against Glenavon ranks as one of his greatest nights as a manager.
Jeffrey, who is no stranger to success after his glittering tenure at Linfield, confessed that he didn't expect to savour such a positive return in his first full season in charge at the Showgrounds.
It's been a brilliant year for United, who picked up their first trophy in 28 years by winning the League Cup, and also secured their first top-four finish since 1981.
Now they have European football to look forward to next season.
Kevin Braniff's deflected shot late in the game handed Jeffrey's men their 2-1 win over Glenavon - after Rhys Marshall had cancelled out Cathair Friel's opener - and the veteran boss said it was a great night all round that he will remember and cherish for a long time.
"This is a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant night," Jeffrey happily reflected after the game.
"I had many great nights at Linfield, and I loved it there.
"But this is different in that it was unexpected.
"Nobody thought we'd have this, we didn't think we'd have this so soon, and the pressure is already on us for next year.
"The enjoyment is that this wasn't expected and we delivered."
The win not only secures European football, but it also provides the club with a significant financial boost - £200k - that will aid the club, particularly in terms of who they can bring into their squad for next season.
Jeffrey says they already have an idea of where they want to be, and that the victory has eased the pressure on some of the choices he has to make in the off-season as the Sky Blues look to push on.
"There were going to be some really difficult decisions, and there still will be some difficult decisions because there's no sentiment in football," Jeffrey admitted.
"We will enjoy the weekend, we'll enjoy where we're at and where we go from here.
"We know where we want to end up - clubs like Cliftonville and Crusaders are our role models in what they've achieved and where they're at.
"We know the journey we're on and we know the destination. Tonight meant that there are decisions that will be easier."
Man of the moment Braniff, who joined the Braidmen from Glenavon in January, said: “I’m absolutely delighted, it was a massive game for the club with all the money involved. Hopefully now we can sign a few more decent players and push on next season.
“I was always going to shoot, if you don’t shoot you don’t score and luckily enough it took a slight deflection off Kris Lindsay. I’ve been thinking about this moment for some time and giving something to the fans. It’s my first goal at the Showgrounds since coming here so I’m thrilled.”
Jim Ervin, who will be the first United captain to lead the team into major European competition since the 1989-90 season, added: “Look at the numbers that have come out here. We have worked very hard and come a long way since last season. It’s a wonderful feeling.
“We have scored plenty and conceded plenty but it is all about where you finish and we finished fourth and are in Europe.
“We won the League Cup too. People might have thought I wouldn’t win anything at United after leaving Linfield but they were wrong.”
Meanwhile, David Kee, Steven Douglas and David Ogilby have agreed one-year contract extensions with Coleraine, while Neil McCafferty and Gary Twigg have left the club.
Glentoran have announced the signing of Daniel Kelly on a pre-contract from Carrick. The Glens have also confirmed that Jay Magee has rejected a contract offer and David Scullion is free to sign for another club.