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I never lost faith in myself: Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey

By Graham Luney

David Jeffrey says he never believed his managerial powers were waning - even after the painful separation from Linfield.

The 54-year-old steered the Blues to nine league championships and seven Irish Cups in a glorious spell that lasted more that 17 years and included 31 trophy wins.

Twenty-three months out of the game gave him time to reflect and recharge but he's back centre stage and this time adored by Ballymena United fans who once ridiculed him.

He's just grasped trophy number 32 after guiding the Sky Blues to the club's first ever League Cup triumph last month and he managed to do it within a year of taking charge at the Showgrounds.

After exiting Windsor Park in April 2014, Jeffrey could be forgiven for questioning his own ability as a manager and leader of men but he maintains he never allowed self-doubt to creep in.

"I did question why my time at Linfield came to an end and the way it did, especially at a time when we were working harder than we ever were," he said. "But I never doubted myself - never; it was just the right time for me and Linfield.

"When I look back at the season we won our sixth double in seven years, I can now have a fresh application for it.

"If you look at the teams who have been successful since like Cliftonville and Crusaders, they haven't been able to do a double yet.

"It takes time to build a team like that. We had to let that team play itself out and then the rebuilding started again.

"I think we were well on the road before, ironically, Ballymena put us out of the Irish Cup.

"Then I had to think about if I really needed it anymore or did I want to subject myself to it? Patience was wearing thin regardless of what had been achieved before and that's why I made the decision."

The unforgettable League Cup win has landed Jeffrey another gong - the Manager of the Month prize for February from the Northern Ireland Football Writers' Association, his 35th individual award.

The 2-0 victory over Carrick Rangers was an emotional night for Jeffrey who dedicated the win to seriously ill fan Trevor Burns.

Trevor, a former secretary of the Seven Towers Supporters Club, was a true Sky Blue who rarely missed a game home or away and found the strength to be at Seaview that night.

Sadly, a few weeks later Trevor passed away but Jeffrey is comforted by the fact he was able to bring some joy to the man he called his hero.

After the game, he said: "An extremely poignant moment of the evening for me was to see Trevor Burns in the crowd and to have my photo taken with him. Trevor is a hero of mine for the pure determination that he was going to be at that final no matter what, and this victory is for him and his family."

There will be no Irish Cup glory for Jeffrey or Ballymena United this season after their quarter-final loss to Coleraine but the former Linfield supremo has already underlined his desire to bring the Gibson Cup to the Braid and the supporters now have faith in the Irish League's 'Special One'.

"These awards are massive," added Jeffrey. "The older you get, the more it means as there is a greater appreciation for it.

"The reality is that the manager will get the plaudits even though the players have to do it on the pitch and I suppose that is okay because if the players don't do well, it's the manager who gets it in the ear.

"This wasn't just won by me, though. Bryan McLoughlin and my goalkeeping coach Alan Simpson have made an immense contribution, as has Paul McAreavey, and I could go on about people throughout the club.

"The players themselves have really upped the ante, too. To win their first 'senior' trophy in 28 years was phenomenal and then to clinch the top-six place for the first time since the inception of the Premiership was terrific.

"But life at Ballymena is a rollercoaster and after doing those two great things, you're thumped at home to Coleraine in the Irish Cup. But I'm delighted to win this award for a 35th time."

United, who host Portadown tomorrow, will compete in the top six for the first time after the league split and it's that Premiership progress which is the real measure of improved standards and a hint of much better days to come.

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