Belfast Telegraph

DJ changes his tune to stay at top of the chart

On his toes: David Jeffrey doesn’t just revolve, he evolves too
On his toes: David Jeffrey doesn’t just revolve, he evolves too

By Billy Weir

A couple of weeks ago on the excellent Irish League Show, there was a very interesting segment with new kid on the block Warrenpoint Town boss Stephen McDonnell giving his views on the re-birth of the league's most decorated manager ever, David Jeffrey.

With Linfield's resurgence, Glenavon's sparkling form and the relative struggles of Crusaders, Coleraine and Cliftonville, Ballymena United have slipped almost unnoticed into fourth spot in the table.

It's no surprise that a Jeffrey team has been successful, but having played just twice at home this season thus far with the re-laying of their Showgrounds pitch and fielding a dramatically remodelled squad with nine new players in it, the rise is remarkable.

Presenter Gavin Andrews, thankfully freshly hosed down after his stint on the farm, asked 26-year-old McDonnell for his thoughts on Jeffrey (slightly more than 26) and it was fascinating stuff.

"It's very interesting as an opposition manager to see that David Jeffrey, who is a legend and has done everything in the game up here, is changing what has brought him all of his success," explained the Town boss (right).

"To go and change the formation, the profile of the players they are now bringing in and the brand of football, it just goes to show the rest of us that you can be biased in what you're doing and sometimes there is a need for change and he's done that and got great success and deservedly so."

His views were also backed by Chris Morgan, a man who knows Jeffrey well having played under him at Linfield, who noted the change from a tried and trusted 4-4-2 to the new 5-3-2, or 3-5-2 when on the attack, this season.

"He's always been 4-4-2 with big, strong physical players," Morgan said. "He's bought more technical footballers into the team and some of his signings are those type of players. It's a massive change in terms of his approach and it's working so far. He has said 'right, let's rip it up and start again'."

The emergence of a new generation of managers, typified by the likes of McDonnell and the newest arrival, Kris Lindsay, who took on Jeffrey on Saturday when Dungannon Swifts came to town, is an interesting variation on the generation game and not a cuddly toy in sight.

With the likes of David Healy, Gary Hamilton, Rodney McAree, Barry Gray and the rest all charting their own paths in the game, I asked the daddy of them all if their rise keeps him on his toes.

"Of course it does," he said, followed by a withering look that suggested 'come and have a go if you think you're good enough.'

"We have looked at things. Bryan (McLoughlin) and I have looked at sports science, in terms of conditioning and how we prepare for games," he explained.

"The game is evolving all the time and we're not silly enough to think 'we've had all the success and we'll continue that way'.

"There are still an awful lot of things we do the old-fashioned way, so to speak, with a modern twist. You're always learning and, of course, younger ones are coming in - but thankfully big Ronnie is still with us!"

And the thing about that is, and often something that goes under the radar with those who think that Big Davy is just all bombastic blood and thunder, he is there for the new generation to tap into.

No one is daft enough to think that he's going to give away all the trade secrets and, while it's dog eat dog, he's more than happy to throw a bone or two to the young pups nipping at his ankles.

"I've spoken to Davy a few times since I took the job and he's always been willing to give you advice and guidance," revealed Lindsay.

"What a manager he has been throughout his whole career and you can only learn from that. He's willing to give up his time to talk to you.

"You always want to be the best and to do that you have to learn from the best and then build on it."

And interestingly he picked up on the point made by McDonnell that the DJ doesn't just revolve, he evolves too.

"You can never stay static in this game, you continually learn and continually change, and Davy has done that with his signings over the summer," he added

"He's said it himself that he has changed the direction he wanted to go and he has added quality footballers, but quality footballers with a bit of energy and a bit of pace and that's half the battle in this league. He has changed formation, gone to a 5-3-2 and it seems to be working for him."

Well, they do say a change is as good as a rest, but a word of warning to those who think that he may be getting less ferocious with the passing of every game - his barking at some of the quite frankly ridiculous decisions given on Saturday shows that there is plenty of bite left in the old dog yet.

Belfast Telegraph


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