Belfast Telegraph

Absolutely gutted: Emotional David Jeffrey hails Ballymena players after narrow cup final defeat

Ballymena's manager David Jeffrey during this evening's game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Ballymena's manager David Jeffrey during this evening's game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

David Jeffrey knows all about challenging for trophies - the highs and the lows.

So when a man of his stature says that a cup final defeat is the hardest he's ever had to endure, it means something.

Jeffrey was emotional and fought back tears during a frank post-match press-conference after his Ballymena United side had been edged out 1-0 by Linfield on Saturday.

"Who do you think should have won?" he began, sending the question back the journalist's way.

It wasn't even in a rehtorical way - it was a genuine question but we all knew the answer that was coming, such was Jeffrey's side's dominance at Windsor Park.

Ballymena have now played in four of the last five League Cup deciders, winning only once.

But it's the manner of the defeats that Jeffrey takes away - comparing the crushing disappointment having failed to do themselves justice in the 2-1 loss to Dungannon Swifts last term to the present feeling of injustice.

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"We were ecstatic when we beat Carrick in the final two years ago," he said. "Last year we were disappointed because of our performance. We had injuries, players doing fitness tests and mentally, we weren't at it that day.

"Today I knew it would be a mountain to climb but I wanted a performance that I could be proud of. You know how difficult I find a defeat but that’s as hard as defeat to take as I’ve had. I’m absolutely gutted. Gutted that we didn’t win.

"Even in the first half we hit the post and we didn’t play as well as we could. Second half we were excellent."

Jeffrey hadn't planned to have any post-match festivities in the eventuality of a defeat but the performance being what it was, he says those plans have changed - hailing his squad that he said was epitomised by the 'immsense' performance of his captain Jim Ervin.

"We fought like tigers and our support was immense. I have to thank them and the massive amount of families that came out.  While we’re not going to celebrate defeat, I’m going to go back and spend time with my players. This group are the most unbelievably dedicated group of young men and they have everything," Jeffrey continued.

"We should have won but we didn’t. Stats will tell you that but I’m very proud. It’s another step on our journey. I’ve told the players to bottle how they feel, the disappointment, keep it in your tummy and let it out when you need it."

They might just need it sooner rather than later.

The two teams go head to head again in one week's time as the Danske Bank Premiership's top two, United six points behind but having played a game less.

We'd guess that one might be tasty.

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