Belfast Telegraph

David Jeffrey's faith in Sky Blue thinking sees Ballymena victorious

Ballymena Utd 2 - Carrick Rangers 0

By Graham Luney

Could this be a bright new dawn for Ballymena United Football Club with the Sky Blue ribbon worn proudly for years to come?

With David Jeffrey flying the plane, United fans are entitled to believe that the promised land of a Danske Bank Premiership title is within reach some day.

After all, the former Linfield boss and his loyal assistant Bryan McLoughlin understand what it takes to get there.

United fans should know that this League Cup triumph over Carrick Rangers - the first in the club's history - is merely an appetiser to what Jeffrey and his management team hope will be the main course.

Call it baby steps or confident strides forward, but the man who guided Linfield to 31 trophies has got the Braidmen moving in the right direction.

Football is not a complicated game and there's no big secret behind Jeffrey's success.

It's a strong work ethic married to a hunger and desire to improve and be successful.

If players have the ability, the 54-year-old will make sure their attitude is right.

There are players good enough to reach the top but sometimes they need the right guidance and encouragement to get there.

One of the most telling remarks after the final came from the club's inspirational former skipper Allan Jenkins.

"When you come off the phone with David you think you're Lionel Messi," he says before adding: "although of course reality soon kicks in eventually!"

It was entirely appropriate that Jenkins should open the scoring, slotting home after a stunning run and assist from William Faulkner in the last minute of the first half.

The 35-year-old is a hugely respected and dedicated professional, someone who has travelled over from Scotland to put in the hard yards for Ballymena United.

He is a credit to himself, his family and his football club.

If there is one player who deserved to be in the right place at the right time at Seaview on Saturday night it was Jenkins. Football is all about experiences and memories and the man who started his career at his local club Stranraer will always cherish this one.

He's still got the appetite for more but with his contract expiring at the end of the season, his United future rests in Jeffrey's hands.

Carrick Rangers certainly weren't lambs to the slaughter and they had a decent penalty shout after Conor McCloskey barged into TJ Murray. Murray squandered a good chance for Carrick, but Jenkins came close again in the second half when he scooped a shot over the bar from close range.

Both keepers impressed with Brian Neeson tipping over a drive from Johnny McMurray and Ross Glendinning turning away a late low effort from Nathan McConnell.

But United packed a bigger punch on the night and McCloskey's rocket in added time really got the party started.

It's trophy number 32 for Jeffrey and when asked what that meant to him - he said little, but his eyes lit up with the words "I'm back".

With United looking to compete in the top six for the first time after the league split, the club and their manager have higher goals to reach.

"When we brought players here we stressed our desire to win the league and that's what we are aiming for, but not this year as Crusaders are too far ahead!" said Jeffrey who dedicated the victory to United fan Trevor Burns who, despite being in poor health, said he was determined to attend the game and lived up to that promise.

"This is a new chapter for myself and Bryan (McLoughlin) and we are so proud of our players. I asked myself why I felt so nervous and it was because the people of Ballymena had taken me to their hearts. On the day my nerves disappeared and I decided I would trust the players."

But the final word should go to Jenkins.

"This is one of the proudest nights of my career, the older you get the more you appreciate nights like this," he said.

"What a day for everyone involved with the club."

He may wish he was 25 rather than 35 but no-one can take this memory away from him - and Jenkins has truly earned it.

BALLYMENA: Glendinning, T Kane, Owens, Jenkins, Faulkner, Friel, Ervin, Millar, McMurray, McCaffrey, Loughran. Subs: Thompson (Kane, 90 mins), Henderson (McMurray, 90 mins), McCloskey (McCaffrey, 81 mins), Allen, McCracken.

CARRICK: Neeson, Chapman, McCullough, Surgenor, McNally, Clarke, McAllister, TJ Murray, Kelly, M Murray, Noble.

Subs: Salley (Clarke, 61 mins), Taggart, McConnell (McAllister, 80 mins), Imbert, Morrow (M Murray, 84 mins).

Referee: Ian McNabb (Newtownabbey)

Man of the match: Allan Jenkins

Match rating: 6/10


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