Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena boss David Jeffrey relishing one of his 'toughest tests' against Odd

By Graham lLuney

David Jeffrey has described Ballymena United's battle against Norwegian side Odd as "one of the toughest tests myself and Bryan McLaughlin have faced in Europe".

Linfield legend Jeffrey recorded a few stunning results on the continent during his time in charge of the Blues alongside his trusted lieutenant McLaughlin, but this mission with the Sky Blues is a daunting task.

The Braidmen will be well organised and hungry to triumph against the odds but their skipper Jim Ervin will miss the second leg due to a holiday arranged some time ago.

As is often the case in these summer assignments for Irish League teams, United face a side who are already 14 matches into their league season and sit seventh in the Eliteserien.

The Norwegian club, who play at the 12,500-capacity Skagerak Arena, finished third in their domestic league last year and will be favourites to progress to the second qualifying round of the Europa League, but regardless of the result, the men from Warden Street will enjoy making special memories on the European stage.

"It's been a real challenge for us because I have never had a turnaround as quickly as this," said Jeffrey. "Our last game was on May 12 (the Europa League play-off win over Glenavon) and we were back in on June 12.

"But the boys have come back in great shape and this is a brand new experience for everyone. It's really exciting for the club but it's always tough against a full-time professional side well into their season. It's probably one of the toughest tests myself and Bryan McLaughlin have faced in Europe but this will be a great learning experience and education for the players."

Jeffrey also welcomed the Irish FA's new five-year strategy which was launched this week, including one proposal to tweak the league season so clubs are playing in May and June.

United will pocket at least £200,000 from their Europa League adventure but Linfield could net as much as £1million if they go on to face Celtic and that's fantasy figures for Irish League teams.

"I'm pleased that local football is on the Irish FA's agenda as I felt for a long time it was perhaps anything but," added Jeffrey.

"I welcome any concerted effort to improve our game and there is an idea we could start the season later and take a mid-season break in January when the weather is not great and people don't have as much money to spend. I think the move to play Welsh teams is a great call and I would be in favour of anything that gives our clubs a better chance of improving results in Europe. The financial rewards are tremendous."

Ervin is disappointed to miss the return leg on July 6 at Seaview. He said: "Unfortunately, I leave for a holiday. It was booked a long time ago. I'm gutted at missing out, but it makes me even more determined to get a result in Norway."

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