Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey flying all the way to Europe

By Scott Young

David Jeffrey could be back managing in Europe this summer.

It's a scenario that appeared impossible at the start of March, but with DJ in charge Ballymena United fans will be thinking something magical could happen at the Showgrounds.

The new play-off system introduced by the Northern Ireland Football League may have its critics - and I can understand why - but the reality is the seventh placed side will get a shot at securing a Europa League place and the Sky Blues could have that golden chance.

With the big man steering the ship, you would back the Braidmen to give it a right good go.

What a prestigious prize that is, with the riches that come with it.

And would they have anything to fear? No.

There aren't too many sides in the upper half of the Danske Bank Premiership setting the heather on fire at the moment, but United are playing with renewed vigour and confidence and with a little bit of luck that European door could edge open for them.

The big man has come in and from the beginning he has transformed the club.

I'm sure a lot of work went on behind the scenes that supporters didn't see, but what they did see was a resolute performance and clean sheet against Crusaders in DJ's first match in charge.

They have built on that result, are now unbeaten in six matches and have secured their Premiership future.

That's a monkey off the players' backs and they can now see the carrot of European football dangling in front of them.

You've got to believe it is possible.

These are exciting times to be a Ballymena United fan.

When Roy Coyle and David Jeffrey were winning trophies at Linfield people said it was an easy job because of the money, but this game isn't as simple as that and the recent record of the Big Two proves that.

People can say all kinds of crazy stuff, but it's about going out and achieving success and larger than life character DJ has been there and done it.

Now they have banished relegation fears I would expect the Sky Blues to keep progressing and there should be plenty of optimism at the club going into next season.

Ultimately results will tell the story, but I'm sure there is great anticipation about what is just around the corner, given the positive impact DJ has already made.

David will strengthen the team in the summer by bringing in quality players and the supporters should be excited.

United have good players, but with the greatest of respect to the squad, players of a higher standard could be added.

With a good pre-season and healthier squad, United will be much stronger next season and who knows what they can achieve?

The European play-off has given them something to play for at this stage of the season and although I can understand a team that finishes in third place feeling aggrieved about potentially missing out on Europe, it does mix things up a bit and everyone knows the rules.

You only have to look at the Championship play-offs in England to book a place in the Premier League to see how they can generate drama and excitement.

Our sides in the bottom half of the Premiership now know the importance of claiming that seventh place.

And no side will relish taking on David Jeffrey's Ballymena United.

Ports fans right to seek answers

I feel genuinely sorry for Portadown fans.

They are watching on while the club’s disciplinary matter regarding undisclosed payments rumbles on.

The club has appealed the sanctions handed out by the Irish FA and will argue their case to the Appeals Board.

Some observers might view that as a dangerous game to play, but the Ports have every right to fight their corner if they have done nothing wrong. They need to be 100 per cent certain they have not made any errors as the Irish FA took a different view, finding them guilty on two counts relating to players Tim Mouncey and Gary Twigg.

If Portadown lose this appeal could they face further sanctions?

That cannot be ruled out.

Whatever happens it’s an absolute mess and casts a dark shadow over the Irish League at a time we should be celebrating the achievements of teams such as Crusaders, now on the brink of historic back-to-back titles.

Portadown’s season has been a shambles from the start and I also feel sorry for caretaker boss Pat McGibbon who is left trying to inject some hunger and fight into this group of players.

I’m sure the fans are asking ‘what the heck is going on?’

They deserve answers and they deserve to know, as any supporter does, that the people in charge of their club are acting in the right manner. And if they aren’t who is going to accept responsibility?

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