Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir: Beware of the nodding duck and rocking the DJ

Billy Weir: Every Thursday, frank, funny, fearless and always on the ball on the Irish League

Any football fan worth his salt will fondly remember the late Graham Taylor's finest moment. Nope, not guiding Watford to the First Division or FA Cup final, leading Aston Villa to a second-place finish in the top division or even taking England to the European Championships.

No, they will remember him for The Impossible Job, the magnificent documentary about his time as England boss and his cataclysmic failure to qualify for the World Cup, where we were able to watch him unravel in front of our eyes.

A key part of that documentary was the role of Phil Neal, a wonderful servant for Liverpool, a man who scored a winning goal in a European Cup final, but whose only real purpose as an assistant manager was to sit impassively and occasionally mutter, 'Yes boss' as Taylor descended deeper and deeper into farce.

It is a role largely misunderstood, just what do they do that the manager doesn't? Local football is blessed with these odd couples who seem to thrive, the good cop, bad cop partnership and often polar opposites as players and personalities, but together possess a chemistry that seems to make things work.

You look at Oran Kearney and William Murphy flying high at Coleraine, Stephen Baxter and Jeff Spiers who have been together through a glorious spell at Crusaders, Gary Hamilton and Paul Millar at Glenavon and then the best buddies of Gary Haveron and Steven Mills at Glentoran, they are very much a team, not two individuals.

This week, Brendan Rodgers stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest by saying that once he left Celtic he could come home to manage Ballymena United, and David Jeffrey gleefully grabbed the bait with a classic retort.

"That was very nice of Brendan to remember his home team, and he certainly has been successful, but Brian McLaughlin (assistant manager) and I have done six doubles in seven years, we've done the clean sweep, we've won an All-Ireland, so maybe when Brendan wins that amount of trophies he can come back to Ballymena."

Wonderful stuff, but perhaps the most telling part of that stinging soundbite was the reference made to his assistant, Brian McLaughlin.

For Jeffrey may be local football's most successful manager and, while he has had plenty of bouquets and brickbats, he is more than happy to share the latter with his own right hand man McLaughlin.

"I have the best in the business. The premise is simply this - I believe you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Brian and I came together at Larne when I was player/assistant manager under Shay Hamill and I was charged with getting a manager for the reserve team," he told me recently.

"I remember approaching Brian, I played with him at Larne and he was part of the Ulster Cup-winning team in that great side that they had, and I remember asking him would he be interested in taking the job and his response was most interesting.

"He said, 'As long as the second team is treated exactly like the first team'. I said, 'Okay, give me an example'. 'Traditionally everything is hand me downs. If the first team had white socks, I want white socks,' he replied. I thought, 'Right, attention to detail'.

"'Secondly, if a first-team player comes down to the reserves and they're not playing particularly well, I won't be keeping him on the pitch just because he's a first-team player'. Hmm, I thought, a man with his own mind then.

"So attention to detail and someone who is very strong in decision making, and I thought, 'That's a real quality'. When I got the job at Linfield I asked Brian to come because a lot of people would have thought I would have gone for an ex-player, an ex-colleague to come and work with me.

"But I wanted someone who was loyal and true to me first and foremost, I wanted someone with character and integrity. To use a phrase, he is certainly not a nodding duck.

"I asked Brian and he agreed to come and that was the beginning of it. What has been one of the lovely things about coming up to Ballymena United has been the true appreciation of Brian and his role. He is meticulous in his planning, we work very much hand in hand as far as I am concerned. Without any shadow of a doubt he is the best that there is.

"He knows when to speak, he knows when to allow me to speak and probably the strongest point is that we can communicate with each other.

"With all the success and the talk about trophies, he has played a massive part."

And I'm sure Baxter would say the same about Spiers, Kearney about Murphy, and Hamilton about Millar. They are all very much their own men and not a 'yes boss' or nodding duck amongst them, and getting that combination right is probably the most important formation for any manager to find.

So, good luck Brendan in moving Ballymena's 'odd couple' out of your way. You'd best get a few more clean sweeps under your belt before that though.

Out on the wing

Away day blues are over at last for Reds

It's incredible to think that a Cliftonville team that has spent so much time in the top six of the table hadn’t won an away game in 2017.

 Thanks to Joe Gormley that came to an end on Saturday with a hard-fought win over Carrick Rangers, ironically the last team they had beaten on their travels some 280 days before.

Dropping Gormley to the bench could prove to be the masterstroke that turns Barry Gray’s season around and, as he said himself, ‘when he went on he proved why he should have started the game, and as a manager that is the response you want.’

Next up, the small matter of Linfield. At least it’s at home.

Ports hopes are given a real Knock-back

NIALL Currie is quickly finding out what so many managers of teams who have dropped out of the Premiership have experienced — it’s damned hard work to get back up.

A defeat by Knockbreda leaves them in mid-table and what was an expected canter is fast becoming a struggle to get the stable door open.

“Players have got to embrace the situation, express yourself and play when at a big club,” he said, and he’s spot on as every team will be looking to take the Ports’ scalp this season.

But special mention must go to Knockbreda and to their manager, Jeff Montgomery, a proper football man and I’m delighted to see him doing so well at the top of the table.

McGuigan balloons it just like Beckham

I have to confess I don’t know much about John McGuigan but I am guessing he isn’t a multi-millionaire with a squeaky voice, a propensity for dandering around in his pants or is married to a member of popular girl band combo from yesteryear.

I will stand corrected on any of the above, but talking of that, he does have one thing in common with David Beckham, a horrible penalty moment, as Glentoran had the chance to inflict a first defeat on Coleraine.

Up he strode and then, oh dearie me, ballooned it like Beckham and then tried to crawl into The Oval turf to hide. On the plus side, Les Kiss has been on the phone offering him a trial up at Kingspan Stadium where his penalty landed...

BILLY TACKLES... MARK SURGENOR

WHAT can I say, myself and Curtis Allen are clearly wasted as cuddly sports writer and ace centre-forward (I am the former) as we got three of the five matches last weekend bang on.

 Sadly for the Glentoran striker, his 3-0 prediction for Glenavon against Ards was surpassed by my 4-1 shout for Linfield and Ballymena’s 3-1 win at Ballinamallard, with the final tally 8-6 in my favour.

 Next to pick up the gauntlet is Carrick Rangers’ utility (I’m never quite sure what that means) man Mark Surgenor, with the usual rules of three points for a perfect prediction and one for picking the correct outcome.

Glenavon v Dungannon Swifts

Friday (7.45pm)

This is a tough one, Glenavon are free-scoring and Dungannon have definitely exceeded my thoughts on how they are going this season. They have defenders scoring even though they miss Andy Mitchell at the other end but Glenavon are doing really well.

Surgenor prediction: 3-0

Weir prediction: 2-1

Cliftonville v Linfield

Saturday (3.00pm)

Cliftonville are so disjointed and have no real identity in their team. You don’t really fear them even though they have some good firepower so I would have to go for Linfield. Cliftonville seem to have lost something, and Linfield are so solid at the back and, with Mark Stafford (right) at the back and whoever plays alongside him, you can’t see them conceding many goals.

Surgenor prediction: 0-2

Weir prediction: 2-2

Ballymena Utd v Coleraine

Saturday (3.00pm)

Having played against Coleraine, they have match-winners in every direction and I can’t see them not beating Ballymena to be honest. They are shipping goals for fun. Having played against them both, we should have beaten Ballymena and were comfortably beaten by Coleraine.

Surgenor prediction: 1-3

Weir prediction: 2-1

Ballinamallard Utd v Ards

Saturday (3.00pm)

Having played against both of them, Ards have a bit about them and Ballinamallard were poor against us and we beat them 2-0.

Surgenor prediction: 0-1

Weir prediction: 2-1

Glentoran v Crusaders

Monday (7.45pm)

Gary Haveron is doing really well with the Glens but I can see Crusaders going on a winning run of maybe 14 or 15 games, so I’d go for them. An angry Crusaders is a dangerous one, I think they’ll do well.

Surgenor prediction: 0-3

Weir prediction: 2-2

Season standings: Weir 3 Players 2

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