Linfield boss David Jeffrey plans more glory
David Jeffrey is well used to creating history with Linfield. Did it as a player. Doing it as a manager.
As the trophies have flooded in so too the acknowledgments for his awesome list of achievements.
Perhaps his finest though passed by earlier in the summer without much fanfare.
It's worth then outlining it here — in June Jeffrey became the longest serving boss in the long and proud history of Linfield FC, all 125 years of it.
Previously the great Roy Coyle was top of that particular list. Now it's Jeffrey, who has been in charge of the Blues for 14 years and seven months, since taking over as manager from Trevor Anderson in January 1997.
Big Davy can remember that day like it was yesterday. Time flies, especially when you are having fun and in the main that's what Jeffrey and the Linfield supporters have enjoyed for the last decade and a half.
After winning the Irish League and Irish Cup double last term, Jeffrey is all set to go again tomorrow when a new campaign begins. He'll take stick from opposing fans and abuse from some of his own after a rare shock defeat, there will be ridiculous talk about him being axed and then he'll probably triumph with another league title — his ninth as Windsor Park supremo. All in the course of 10 months for the man for all seasons, who starts the latest one with an extra glow.
“Becoming the longest serving manager with Linfield is a dream come true for me. It is a big ambition that has been realised,” says Jeffrey, with a broad smile.
“When I became manager back in January 1997, my first aim was to get to the end of my two and-a-half year contract! “It's phenomenal to know that I've made Linfield history and I'm sincerely thankful to a lot of people who have been a huge help to me over the years.”
Jeffrey is not a manager who tends to look back but in our interview this week, he allowed himself an opportunity to reflect on how far he has come in the managerial game.
“I remember many years ago when I tipped my toe into the coaching water at Ards, then I became player/assistant manager at Larne and had more input into team selection and contract negotiations,” he stated,
“After that I became assistant manager to Trevor Anderson at Linfield. I only knew life as a player with Linfield and gradually gained more awareness of the club through coaching and assisting Trevor.
“Then came the opportunity to manage the Blues. I thought I had served a reasonable apprenticeship, but I couldn't have been further removed from the reality of being in charge of this club.
“It was a massive learning curve for me. There was more to it than team selection, coaching and dealing with players. There were fortnightly board meetings when I had to give reports, the end of season AGM where another report had to be presented and the daily contact with the Press.
“Apart from that you needed to be fully aware of how every Linfield team, not just the first team, was doing and how everyone was performing in their re
spective jobs. It was a lot to take in. Starting out I honestly didn’t imagine the size of the job.
“Quickly I got used to my tasks and identified the primary aims and priorities. I was left in no doubt about that in my second AGM when after we had a lot of success with our reserve and youth teams as well as international recognition, a fan stated that was all very well and good but the only thing he was interested in was major trophies.
“At Linfield that is the main focus and thankfully ever since we have been very successful in putting major trophies on the table.”
The aim hasn't changed.
“Down the years there has been different motivations at the start of a new season,” added 48-year-old Jeffrey.
“Initially it was to win a league title, then it was to win two titles in a row, then do the double, then the double double and after the clean sweep. Last year it was to win a 50th title in our 125th year.
“From a personal perspective to be the longest serving manager is a dream, but ultimately it's all about the club and our ability to win trophies.
“We have no divine right to do that and it takes hard work to achieve what we have. No team is unbeatable. Just look around at the great sides in Europe who all go through difficult times.
“The stark reality entering this season is that while a lot of nice things have been said recently about us, we have to educate the players that along with the praise will come criticism if they don't perform, so it is a case of going out there and being winners all over again.
“The suggestion that everyone is fighting for second this season is ridiculous. We have strengthened our squad but so have other clubs and they don't have to face what we face every match when teams raise their games. Against us poor players become average, average players become good and good players become very good. And we have to match that week in week out.”
And Jeffrey himself knows he must keep delivering week in week out at the most demanding club in the land.
Just how long can he keep doing it I wonder.
“As long as Linfield think I can do a job,” he answers succinctly.
Then comes a pause, before he adds: “In this job I make sure never to take anything for granted or look too far into the future.
“I remember in my first full season in charge, the then chairman Billy McCoubrey telling me there was going to be a board meeting at half-time during a game with Crusaders to discuss my position.
“Two seasons ago my position was discussed by the board and last season the pressure was more intense than ever to win the 50th league title in our 125th year. No one knows better than me about the mighty expectation at the club.”
So what's that expectation this year?
His answer: “I never set targets in public, so I won't do it now.”
Again that pause, then in a tone of intent: “Let's just say in every competition we enter, we'll be aiming to win it.”
The rest of the Irish League — you have been warned.
Glentoran will be our big title rivals, says Jeffrey
Glentoran will be serious challengers to Linfield's supremacy in the coming season, according to Blues boss David Jeffrey.
Last term the Glens attracted more publicity for their off-field problems than what was happening on the pitch, but Jeffrey believes that could change in the months ahead with Scott Young's side back challenging for major honours.
“Regardless of what anyone says about their problems off the park and not being able to bring in as many players as they would like, I strongly believe they will be up there,” said Jeffrey.
“They have made good signings in Darren Boyce and Stephen Carson, have Gary Hamilton back in the fold and Ciaran Martyn back from injury in midfield. Richard Clarke and Colin Nixon are quality players while Sean Ward is like a Rolls Royce, so make no mistake about it, they will be challenging us for trophies.”
Jeffrey says there will be others in the mix too.
“Crusaders, who were runners-up to us in the league and Cup last season, have made some excellent signings in Timmy Adamson and Paul Leeman.
“I was very surprised to see Paul leave Glentoran. I left Linfield around the same time in my career to go to Ards, and from experience I can say to Paul he has nothing to prove to anyone after the service he gave to a Big Two club.
“Timmy was formerly with us and I know about his ability and his honesty. They are good acquisitions for the Crues, who will bed in with all their other good players.
“I fancy Cliftonville will be up there challenging under Tommy Breslin. They have been a consistently good football side for the last few years while I can see Portadown doing well too. The dark horses for success will be Glenavon and Ballymena United.”
Linfield kick-off tomorrow's new season with a trip to Mourneview Park to take on Marty Quinn's new look Lurgan Blues.
“Playing Glenavon will be very tough,” says Jeffrey. “ A lot of changes have been made by Martin. He's making his mark and making it into his team and outlining that his new players have something to prove.
“When Glenavon were reaching Cup finals in the 90s they had great support, so there is real potential for them to be a big provincial club.
“To me they are a bit of a sleeping giant — they have a superb stadium, excellent infrastructure and ooze class off the field. This is the year they will want to get things right on the field and they'll feel there is no better way to start than beating the champions and double winners.”