Belfast Telegraph

Evergreen Jenkins is devoted to giving his all on and off the pitch

Ballymena Utd vColeraine, Tennent's Irish Cup quarter-final: Ballymena Showgrounds, Today, 3.00pm

By Graham Luney

When Allan Jenkins isn't performing heroics for Ballymena United in a League Cup final, he's giving something back to the community that helped make him the man and footballer he has become.

A proud warrior in Sky Blue colours, there is a considerable affection for the Scot in Ballymena and further afield in the Irish League as his passion for the game and our domestic product runs deep.

But although his adventure with United has been an unforgettable roller-coaster ride since then boss Roy Walker brought him to Warden Street in May 2011, Jenkins' real home is Stranraer and he's still determined to serve the club that set his fantastic career in motion.

The former Morton and Gretna midfielder made over 200 appearances for Stranraer in his younger days but now at the age of 35 he's hungry to serve the local community by keeping kids on the right path.

As Community Development Officer and head of youth development for Stranraer Football Club, Jenkins can pass on his knowledge and experience to the next generation of talent hoping to carve out a career like the one that took this 6ft giant to United.

Another familiar face to Irish League fans, former Portadown, Ballymena United, Crusaders and Larne striker Gary McCutcheon coaches the Under-17 side while Jenkins also helps guide the Under-17s as well as Under-15s and Under-20s.

"Gary McCutcheon, now he was a player," said Jenkins, whose passion for coaching is pretty clear but he's not ready to hang up his boots just yet.

Whether he is still at Ballymena United next season is manager David Jeffrey's call but Jenkins is too focused on today's Tennent's Irish Cup quarter-final battle with Coleraine at the Ballymena Showgrounds to worry about what may or may not happen at the end of the season.

And he's keeping himself busy, on and off the pitch.

"I've been doing a first aid course this week," he said.

"It's all part of the work we are doing in Stranraer. We go around schools and the community and talk to kids about various health issues from addiction to bullying. It's a way to promote the club and give the kids confidence through football.

"It's my hometown club, where I was born and raised. It's where I belong and feel happy. We can organise a lot of projects but rely on funding from a charitable trust. It's important to engage with the community and things are going well. I've got all my coaching badges apart from the Pro Licence one so that's next on my list.

"If the opportunity arises I would like to go into coaching or management but my playing career isn't over yet and I've plenty left to give as a player.

"I've no reason to stop playing. I've never done much running in my career so I still feel fresh! You are a long time retired and I never ran fast so my legs are okay!"

Any suggestion Jenkins is after Jeffrey's job is swiftly kicked into touch.

"David's doing a decent job," he joked. "He's made a good start."

With the glorious League Cup victory - and Jenkins' opening goal - still fresh in the mind, confidence couldn't be higher going into this Irish Cup showdown. But the midfielder knows all about football's cruel sense of humour. Despite scoring in the 2014 Irish Cup final against Glenavon, it was the Lurgan Blues who triumphed. There has been, however, two County Antrim Shield successes and that stunning League Cup win last month. Although Jeffrey wants the Sky Blues to win the league title, it's not going to happen this season but an Irish Cup winner's medal must seem tantalisingly close to a group of players who will fear no-one.

"This is another massive game and it's an exciting time as we can remember struggling in the bottom six and fearing relegation," added Jenkins.

"We've won one trophy and can look forward to competing in the top six.

"The games mean something and this quarter-final certainly does. There's a lot of ups and downs in football and you have to enjoy the good times. The supporters enjoyed the Cup win and the tickets for this game have disappeared fast.

"We are in a good moment but Coleraine will be out for revenge after we beat them in the League Cup semi-finals.

"Coleraine have been in fantastic form but the League Cup has given the boys a taste of something they want more of.

"After all the rubbish times you still feel privileged to play for the club and it's the fans' reaction that really touches you. We are very saddened to learn of the passing of Trevor Burns, who was at the final. We were proud to play for him and all the fans."

Jenkins says the time isn't right to talk about his future but he can be assured that when he does leave the Irish League stage, he will receive a well deserved standing ovation.

And he would love to bring an Irish Cup winner's medal back home with him to show the boys in Stranraer.

Belfast Telegraph

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