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We'll pay a price over Irish Cup call: Jeffrey

Ballymena Utd v Linfield, Danske Bank Premiership: Ballymena Showgrounds, Today, 3pm

By Graham Luney

David Jeffrey says the increased ticket prices for the Tennent's Irish Cup Final represents a "missed opportunity" in the fight to bring the Irish League to a much wider audience.

A passionate supporter of domestic football, the Ballymena United boss who won seven Irish Cups during his trophy-laden managerial reign at Linfield feels a bumper crowd and carnival atmosphere at next month's final between the Blues and Coleraine could have introduced more supporters to the magic of the sport.

Adult tickets have gone up from £15 to £20 - an increase of 33% - and the decision taken by the Challenge Cup Committee of the Irish FA has attracted huge criticism from fans, some of whom say they cannot afford to bring their families along to the showpiece occasion on Saturday, May 6 at Windsor Park.

Many fans have highlighted last season's FAI Cup final attracted a crowd of 26,500 supporters when ticket prices were £8.50 and Jeffrey says he can understand their frustration.

"I always have an appreciation for the fans and what they are feeling and I developed that a lot more when I was writing about the game in my Sunday Life column and attending matches after my time at Linfield," said Jeffrey.

"I'm passionate about the game's health and image and it's unfortunate the cost of an Irish Cup Final ticket has risen in this manner.

"You can talk about percentages but it's a £5 increase which might not seem exorbitant to a single man but it will have an impact on the casual fan or families and don't we want to see families come to the matches?

"We want to bring the casual fans back and see our attendances rise. It's interesting how the FAI have reducted ticket prices for the FAI Cup Final and the crowds at the Aviva Stadium have been so impressive. Windsor Park is a big ground and it needs a big crowd. It would be very disappointing to have a Cup final without an atmosphere.

"I think the decision to increase the ticket prize was wrong and a missed opportunity. I can understand the rationale behind the increase in the charge because costs need to be met but I just look at the FAI Cup Final and ask why can't we do it that way? If Windsor Park was full to capacity, like for the Northern Ireland matches, it would be rocking.

"I know people have quoted the prices with Ulster Rugby games and gaelic matches but in my mind you've got to compare football matches and the obvious comparison is the FAI Cup Final and I agree with the comments made by Linfield chairman Roy McGivern. I'm not criticising anyone, I just believe we need to think outside the box a bit more and look at the bigger picture. Let's not price out the fans because without them we won't have a game."

Jeffrey's total focus today is trying to mastermind a home win for the Sky Blues against his old club, a Linfield side that has the secnt of Gibson Cup glory in its nostrils, only a point behind leaders Crusaders with 12 games remaining.

"It's the first time the club has made the top half of the split and it's a special bit of history for the club," added Jeffrey whose spell in charge at Linfield exceeded 17 years and included 31 trophies.

"Now we have achieved that we want to give a good account of ourselves and each game presents a different challenge. It's an opportunity for Bryan McLoughlin and myself to see where the team is and how we measure up against the top sides.

"Our first match after the split was a 3-0 loss to Glenavon when we did not perform as well as we have done this season. We did not do ourselves justice so we move onto the second game looking for a better perfromance."

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