Belfast Telegraph

David Jeffrey is walking into a Windsor wonderland

By Billy Weir

It may be a clash between the Blues and the Sky Blues, but it's a red letter day in the footballing life and times of David Jeffrey.

With 31 trophies in 17 years as manager of Linfield, he was the king of Windsor Park before his abdication from the throne back in 2014 and seemingly enjoying life from the other side of the fence as a pundit and columnist.

Then came that extraordinary announcement in March of this year that he was to succeed another Blues legend, Glenn Ferguson, as Ballymena United manager and although having faced Linfield twice already this season, this third meeting will have been one with a big red circle drawn around it.

Jeffrey will return 'home' today fresh on the back of taking his new charges to the final of the League Cup and knowing that a win would take the Braidmen to within three points of his former side.

His rag-tag collection of players has been the story of the season thus far, an assemblage of untried talent, fledglings eager to fly at this level, men in the last chance saloon and a fair smattering of those who have seen and done it all, bearing more fruit than a Christmas pudding.

"Saturday is a new experience for the players because a lot of them haven't played at Windsor Park before, they haven't a clue what it's like," he explained.

"I do. Thirty years and it'll be very, very nice but I'm going back as Ballymena United manager and the Bluemen wouldn't expect anything else.

"I remember saying when I finished with Linfield I wasn't finished with football but I never imagined I would go back into management, it so happens that I have. I'm blessed, I've been given a God-given opportunity and I say that with all grace and reverence, at a club where I'm enjoying every minute of it.

"I even enjoy the days when we get hammered because it's all part of the roller-coaster ride that is Ballymena United."

If this game three serves up half as much excitement as the previous two meetings then the fans will be in for an early festive present, United winning a League Cup clash 4-1 and then losing the subsequent Danske Bank Premiership meeting by the same margin.

Jeffrey, typical of the man-manager he is, pinned the blame for that defeat on his now considerably less broad shoulders and in the wide-open spaces of the national stadium he is likely to let his side play their natural game.

"One game we totally and utterly dominated and played some fantastic stuff, the second game, and I said it publicly and I'll reiterate it, a big part of it was my responsibility because I felt we needed to be a bit more cautious second time around," he added.

"What I did know was that Linfield having been beaten so convincingly first time round weren't going to let it happen a second time and perhaps we should have fought fire with fire on that occasion but I wanted them to be more measured and we were battered."

As well as the Sky Blues are doing though, it is wise counsel to stand well back when waxing too lyrical about where they are at and what they have achieved thus far, where sitting fourth and beating Coleraine to reach a cup final would have been enough for plans for a statue to be erected on Warden Street.

"We had Glentoran on Saturday, Coleraine on Tuesday, Linfield on Saturday and Coleraine on Boxing Day, then we've got Glenavon and then we've got Ards, so ask me that question at the end of that run," he growled.

"There are things like injuries and suspensions that are going to kick in, when we've been battered with injuries up to now. Jonathan McMurray, to be fair, shouldn't even be back playing at this moment in time but we've had to rush him back in and that's just one example.

"Ultimately we will find out at the end of the season where we're at, I've said top six and that has got to be our target. That's where we need to get to and yes we've done very well up to now and yes I know that in terms of the points we've got in the season up to now it's all very positive but all it is, is a juncture.

"The timeline is through to the end of April and what you've done then. That's when you look back and see what progress the club has made, how the players have performed and how they've responded.

"I'm just really pleased for the staff and the players who have worked their socks off and we haven't fluked a thing, we merit our place but the final now is in the cupboard, not to be taken out."

So, you have been warned, approach the cupboard with caution, but at five to three as David Jeffrey marches along the pitch, soaks in the adulation that he richly deserves from the Bluemen and mops away a tear or two, his thought will be one thing, or rather, three - the points up for grabs as the Sky Blue roller-coaster rumbles on.

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