Belfast Telegraph

Chris Holt: How Jeffrey used painful memories to bring glory back to Linfield

On Saturday, Linfield will, bar a catastrophe of Icelandic volcano proportions, pick up their 49th Irish League title, and no one can begrudge them that crown.

They've been the best team, the most consistent – albeit in a very inconsistent league – and as the saying goes, anyone who finishes on top deserves to be champions. The fact that they play Crusaders at the weekend, who don't seem to know how to stave off a title party in their own backyard, might make things a little easier.

If we're all honest, very few people would have tipped Linfield to win the league this year. This was a team in transition, to borrow an oft-repeated phrase from boss David Jeffrey.

Glenn Ferguson – a massive part of their success in the last decade – was moved on and an emphasis on youth was brought to the fore, with a gradual phasing out of veterans, who admittedly more than played their part throughout the year.

Glentoran, who weren't amazing last season in taking the title, did at least strengthen their squad with Richard Clarke and Keith Gillespie, and looked as though they would finally manage to grab that Holy Grail of back-to-back championships.

The fact is, as usual following a title success, the east Belfast men were awful for much of the season and that has led to much frustration and soul searching from within. A heavily financed squad just couldn't cut it and there is something intrinsically wrong in the psyche of the club that they just can't deal with the pressures of being champions.

Across town, they don't have that problem.

There is a winning mentality at Windsor Park that, even if it wobbles for a while, will not take too long in returning. That is not something that Jeffrey has brought to the club, it has always been there, but of course you have to credit him for continuing that trophy-laden tradition.

What Jeffrey does deserve a huge amount of kudos for, though, is instilling within his team the necessary belief and spirit to bounce back from adversity.

I firmly believed that last season's stuttering race to the Carling Premiership by Glentoran was borne out of nerves having had to wait four years to get their hands on the Gibson Cup again. I felt this season, with the aura and confidence of a title winning success hanging over them, the Glens would sweep all before them, snap up the crown again and with the talented young players coming through, maybe even win it again next year.

I didn't take into account how much Jeffrey uses the abiding memory of misfortune to motivate his troops.

When, Chris Morgan scored that famous – or infamous depending on which side of the Big Two divide you stand – goal right at the end to all but seal the title for Glentoran against the Blues at the Oval, five years ago this week, Linfield players didn't stand around feeling sorry for themselves.

Their pain lasted a very short period, as just a week later they went down to Dublin to win the Setanta Sports Cup, against all odds. The following season, Jeffrey led his team to a domestic clean sweep and admitted that Morgan's goal had galvanised them as he knew he didn't want to ever feel that disappointment again.

Last season there was a slightly similar scenario, when a very late Michael Halliday goal grabbed a draw for Glentoran that would prove to be the most crucial point of the season. Jeffrey was flattened by that and the Blues suffered a season of no success – he wouldn't allow that to happen again.

And so, here we are again, having suffered a setback last year, the Blues are two games away from a league and cup double.

Not a bad way to bounce back.

Belfast Telegraph


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