Belfast Telegraph

Jeffrey calls on Irish League family to unite

By Graham Luney

David Jeffrey has called on the Irish League community to unite rather than throw mud around in light of Portadown's week of turmoil.

The Ports' Danske Bank Premiership opener at Coleraine today is off after the club was suspended from all football activity by the Irish FA.

The sanction was imposed after the club had failed to pay disciplinary fees for making undisclosed payments to players.

Portadown's suspension was later lifted and their appeal against the IFA Disciplinary Committee decision will be heard later this month.

It's a farcical start to the league season, however, and casts another shadow over the domestic game which has enjoyed improved attendances and facilities.

Jeffrey's primary focus this week has been to ensure that his Ballymena United side begin the campaign in style but his heart sinks when he sees the local game attract negative publicity.

"As a football person and as someone who cares about the local game, while also recognising the service that Ronnie McFall gave to Portadown as a player and manager, I feel these events are very sad and unfortunate," said Jeffrey, who guided Linfield to 31 trophies during his 17-year reign at the Blues.

"The football family needs to come together and help one another.

"When one of our own is having difficulties we shouldn't simply condemn and criticise.

"I understand rules and regulations need to be respected and I get all that about the fairness of the game but when all that is said and done I can remember moments when we united and helped one another.

"There was a time when Cliftonville nearly went out of business and Linfield made a donation to help them.

"Portadown Football Club have contributed much to our game and I feel we should all be moving forward together.

"Let's learn lessons and make progress.

"There are no winners here, only losers."

Northern Ireland Football League chiefs looking to promote the game struck gold when Nacho Novo, Paddy McCourt, Roy Carroll and Sammy Clingan arrived on the scene.

It's a painful irony then that the start of another season is overshadowed by off-the-pitch matters but fans just want to see thrilling entertainment and the new boys live up to expectations.

Jeffrey added: "I think it's fair to say that we all live in the real world and those players would not have the options of yesteryear.

"It would be totally fair to say that but we are still delighted that they have chosen to come and play in the Irish League and it's the icing on the cake for me in terms of the excellent product we have.

"The more tangible feeling of joy for me is the number of young players who have progressed through our league and went on to enjoy careers across the water and with Northern Ireland at as big a stage as the Euro 2016 finals.

"It's a message that reminds people there is more to this special league than you imagine or believe.

"You can't deny the reputation and quality of the experienced players who have come to our league and it's great for the locally-based players as they will be inspired and raise their game.

"Anyone playing against Nacho Novo will not be playing against Nacho Novo the Glentoran striker.

"They will be playing against Nacho Novo the former Rangers star while Roy Carroll is a Northern Ireland legend, a Premier League title winner with Manchester United.

"I said to Keith Gillespie that he could have anticipated a tough time in the Irish League as he was Keith Gillespie, the former Manchester United and Northern Ireland star, a hero to many.

"He was never going to be viewed as just another run of the mill winger.

"So it's great news for the fans and it should be viewed in a positive light.

"Anyone who claims that Pat McCourt or Nacho Novo will earn your normal Irish League wage is talking rubbish but I'd rather focus on the positives and say well done to those who managed to raise enough funds to bring the players here."

Ballymena United's season starts with a trip to champions Crusaders.

Jeffrey jokes "it'll be a walk in the park" but he also knows that if a club like the Crues can hit the big time then why can't the Braidmen enjoy a day in the sun?

"When myself and Bryan McLoughlin started at Ballymena United our target was to secure the club's senior status," he said.

"Confidence was low after five straight defeats but we all worked tremendously hard and the players deserve credit.

"We must now build and take the club forward and that is achieved through baby steps, nothing dramatic can happen overnight.

"Look at clubs like Crusaders, Cliftonville and Glenavon and if someone had told us 10 years ago how successful they would be no-one would have believed it.

"They are our inspiration and we must have that ambition, otherwise what is the point?

"We are doing a mountain of work to try and achieve that.

"People can talk to me about the differences of management at Linfield and Ballymena United but I never allowed the pressure or expectation at Linfield, whether it was from the board or the fans, to bother me.

"That pressure came from within.

"It was my pressure and my expectation.

"What attracted me to the Ballymena United job was the size of the challenge and while I never expected to return to management after my time at Linfield, I'm really enjoying it and the club, the supporters and the town have been brilliant to me and my staff."

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph