Belfast Telegraph

Anyone expecting Ballymena to roll over for Crusaders is talking nonsense: Jeffrey

 

By Steven Beacom

David Jeffrey has blasted any suggestions that Ballymena United will roll over against Crusaders so that his club's fiercest rivals Coleraine won't win the Irish League title.

In an amazing end to a compelling Danske Bank Premiership campaign, the Bannsiders will go to Glenavon today knowing that they will need a favour from Ballymena who host Crusaders.

The top two, Crusaders and Coleraine, have the same number of points, but the Seaview men are in the driving seat thanks to a much superior goal difference.

With a potential €1million (£878,649) at stake for the team that wins the title and qualifies for the Champions League, there is mega-money riding on the outcome as well as the prestige and honour of being able to call yourself the best club side in Northern Ireland.

The way the final day fixtures have worked out, some Coleraine fans are worried that, given the intense rivalry which exists between the sides, Ballymena may not give their all when the Crues play at the Showgrounds.

Jeffrey, who knows all about winning league championships having claimed nine of them as Linfield boss, seethes at the very thought his players won't be fully committed this afternoon.

"Anyone that suggests we won't try our best is talking an absolute load of nonsense," stated Jeffrey.

"They don't know Brian McLaughlin (Ballymena assistant manager) and they don't know David Jeffrey. Every single game we play in we play to win and I will tell you now that our players will be going out with exactly the same attitude that we had against Glenavon last weekend and all our other matches.

"I repeat, if anybody thinks we won't be fully committed that is nonsense. They don't have a clue what they are talking about.

"Coleraine are seen in Irish League football as our biggest rivals, and of course that is the case, but the reality is we will be preparing a team to go out and deliver a strong performance."

Another talking point relates to Ballymena United defender Kyle Owens, brother of Crusaders striker Jordan.

Kyle has agreed a move to Seaview in the summer, leading to debate about whether he will play for his current club against his future one in a match which will determine whether the Crues will play in the Champions League next season.

Jeffrey, whose team will be involved in the Europa League play-offs next month, says: "We will do everything in our power to do what is right and best for Ballymena United. If that means playing Kyle Owens and him maybe scoring the winning the goal, so be it.

"I will look after the interests of Ballymena United. That is what concerns me, nothing else."

Jeffrey adds: "It will be tense. It wouldn't be natural if it wasn't.

"I've never known a final day with so much at stake across the league, and in terms of the title it is such a fine line between both Crusaders and Coleraine."

It was at Ballymena last season that the Crusaders dream of winning three titles in a row came unstuck when Jeffrey's men beat them at the Showgrounds, giving Linfield the opportunity to pip the Shore Road men to the crown.

"To me, Crusaders have the strongest squad in the country, and I do think the experience of last season will equip them well," said Jeffrey.

"The focus for us is to build momentum and make sure our players are ready for the Europa League play-offs. With the greatest respect to Crusaders and Coleraine, the only focus that Brian McLaughlin and I have is on Ballymena United. We are overjoyed to be in top six again. That was our aim last season and we achieved more than that by winning the League Cup and qualifying for Europe.

"This season has been a bigger challenge to try and repeat that simply because we have been crucified by injuries.

"To get into the top six and to reach two finals (County Antrim Shield and League Cup) is more than reasonable progress."

Ballymena have yet to score since the split, but Jeffrey insists: "Against Cliftonville we were beaten 3-0 but after Cathair Friel was sent off we played some of the best football of the season. We went to Linfield and Coleraine and I thought we should have earned draws in both those matches, and then we got a thoroughly deserved point against Glenavon.

"Now we test ourselves against Crusaders. These are the games you want to be playing in and we will do all we can to win."

Ballymena Utd

Crusaders

Danske Bank Premiership

Ballymena Showgrounds, Today, 3pm

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