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Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey hungrier than ever for trophy glory

Braid boss can eclipse Coyle with remarkable 32nd piece of silverware

By Graham Luney

If the Ballymena United players are relishing tonight's NI League Cup final at Seaview, how do you think David Jeffrey is feeling?

A man who guided Linfield to 31 trophies is suddenly tantalisingly close to winning his 32nd, moving him one ahead of legendary former Blues and Glentoran boss Roy Coyle.

After a well earned break from the madness that is Irish League football, Jeffrey's competitive juices are flowing again.

Different time, different team, but the 54-year-old's winning mentality and philosophy haven't changed.

If players aren't prepared to work hard and fight for the Sky Blue cause, they are surplus to requirements at the Showgrounds.

But when he agreed to accept the United challenge in March 2016, Jeffrey knew he would be judged on future success, not past glories. Making the Braidmen a formidable force in the Danske Bank Premiership's top six was his number one priority but there was always the possibility of grabbing silverware.

If United can conquer Carrick Rangers tonight at Seaview, the club will celebrate their first League Cup triumph and even for a manager as successful as Jeffrey, the first prize pocketed in new surroundings will feel extra special.

"The chance of winning a first trophy at the club is ginormous," admitted Jeffrey, who signed a three-year contract with the Sky Blues.

"If anyone looks at where we are in the league and where Carrick are, it will be easy to say we are the favourites.

"But cup football is a one-off game, a one-off day and anything is possible. It is winnable for both sides.

"The fact that it is the first cup final, that's where the additional nerves are.

"Anyone who says it was easy to win things at Linfield because we had all the money is wrong. 

"As has been stated recently, for quite a part of my career at Linfield, the money wasn't there and we were banned from saying that.

"There will, of course, be those who will never give us the credit for what we did.

"The one thing that makes me so proud is that we were able to identify young men who had a hunger and desire and who wanted an opportunity and we've done that at Ballymena.

"We've given them the chance and they have been remarkable."

Jeffrey admits to being nervous before this battle in front of the Sky Sports cameras, and so he should be.

A manager can prepare his men as best he can for a cup final but the game can still be decided by a wicked deflection or a controversial refereeing decision.

And it's fair to say we've witnessed too many contentious calls in major finals in recent years.

"You're always nervous before a cup final, but I am particularly before this one," said Jeffrey, who was in the Linfield dugout for more than 17 years. "A cup final with Ballymena is totally different.

"There are all the experiences with Linfield with regards to preparation and how you do things - that's just part and parcel of the things you bring to the job.

"But this is totally different. We didn't expect to be in a cup final so quickly if truth be told, and the run we've gone on to get to the cup final had me pinching myself.

"We had Newington who were a potential banana skin and then we beat Linfield 4-1.

"We then went to Warrenpoint and they were as immense against us as we were against Linfield but we battled through it and then we had the fairytale story against Coleraine in the semi-final.

"So that story has really built it up.

"I've got to say I've had to be very strict with myself to make sure we haven't thought too much about it until last week in terms of the pre-match meal etc.

"We set our stall out right at the beginning of the season that the league was going to be our bread and butter and if we got any sort of cup success that would be a bonus."

Every manager needs a supportive board and Jeffrey has that on Warden Street.

"The whole club have given us nothing but support," he added.

"There is no moaning and groaning. All it is, is pure encouragement.

"It was definitely the right fit at the right time."

Everything feels right but Jeffrey's Ballymena United mission is only just starting.

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