Belfast Telegraph

'That's the genius of David Jeffrey': Andy McGrory explains Ballymena United manager's magic powers

Andy McGrory was struggling for starts at Glenavon before his career was kick-started by Ballymena United and David Jeffrey (inset).
Andy McGrory was struggling for starts at Glenavon before his career was kick-started by Ballymena United and David Jeffrey (inset).
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Of the eleven players who started Ballymena United's 4-0 win over Warrenpoint Town on Saturday, nine were brought to the club by current boss David Jeffrey.

The former Linfield manager took the reins in March 2016, adding two of those signings in the opening months of his time in charge.

Two more followed a year later, three in 2018 and one, debutant Aaron Burns, is new to the fold.

Incremental strides.

The first eight have become integral parts of a United machine that finished second only to Linfield last season, and given Jeffrey's record, the signs look good for Aaron Burns.

The interesting aspect is where all these players have come from.

Cathair Friel was plucked from lower-league Limavady United in 2016 and has averaged 14 league goals in his first three seasons.

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Ryan Harpur and Andrew Burns (Dungannon Swifts) and Stephen McCullough (Carrick Rangers) were brought in from bottom-six sides, leaving five, respectfully, from top teams.

Aaron Burns had amassed only 14 league starts in 18 months at Coleraine while Jude Winchester started just over half of the Premiership games for Cliftonville in the season before his departure.

Scott Whiteside hadn't made a single league start for Derry City before jumping ship in 2017 and Andy McGrory was handed only 10 league starting spots at Glenavon in 17/18 before he was persuaded to join the Sky Blue revolution.

So just one was a starter at a top six team; goalkeeper Ross Glendinning, who was let go by Linfield after being replaced by Roy Carroll.

Those not in Saturday's line-up match the narrative. James Knowles had only ever made more than 20 starts in a season once, few Glentoran fans shed tears over the departure of Jonny Addis and the likes of Ryan Mayse, Adam Lecky and Decky Carville were moving up from the league's, again respectfully, lesser lights.

It is, then, a team made up of unproven players and top teams' cast-offs.

Yet Jeffrey had taken them from eighth place in 2016 to last season leading the challenge to a lauded Linfield.

How?

"That's the genius of David Jeffrey," smiles McGrory. "The man knows the league inside out. He's had so many Championship medals.

"He thought he would go a different way and get players who were hungry. I can tell you now that he's got 26 players in there who are hungry to win things. Look at it now. He's done the job so far and hopefully we can continue what we did last season."

The early signs are fairly good. They've got ten points from five games and will go second if they win their game in hand, albeit against Linfield.

"His man management is second to none," continues McGrory. "I couldn't tell you. He knows who to put the arm round and who to give a rollicking to. He sort of just leaves me alone which I'm happy enough with. He knows I know myself when I haven't played well.

"That's his job. He reads people for a living so he knows what to do with certain types of people. He just makes you run through a brick wall for him."

Perhaps McGrory is up there with the best examples of Jeffrey's career-transforming powers.

Then 25, there had been talk of the Lisburn man moving down the leagues in search of game-time with his chances increasingly limited at Glenavon.

Rhys Marshall had long since made the right-back spot his own and the exploits of assist-king Andy Hall weren't helping his prospects on the wing either.

But it was Jeffrey who recognised that neither of those positions were really ideal anyway, identifying McGrory as the man to play right-wing-back in his United side's 3-5-2.

"The formation suits me down to the ground," he explains. "I like to get up and down the wing as much as possible and there's nobody in front of me so I've got the whole line to work.

"The three at the back gives me and (left-wing-back) Steven McCullough a license to go and help the forwards. I think that is a big help in my game. Hopefully I can continue this season the way I finished off last year. I've begun to do that but hopefully I haven't peaked too early."

McGrory has bagged 13 league goals in just over a year at the Showgrounds, more than in the previous four seasons combined at Glenavon.

"I was in five minutes with David and he'd already sold the club to me," McGrory explains of his decision to leave Glenavon, where he had really broken through from reserve football after one substitute Premiership appearance for Linfield back in 2010.

"He sold the formation and what he wanted to try and do. I was so impressed. I didn't sign on the day but I went home and knew what I was going to do. It was tough because I had so many great years at Glenavon but such is the influence of the man, he just turned my head.

"I went there with no intentions of signing for Ballymena but the way he put the club and his ideas across to me sold it. I haven't looked back since."

Little wonder; included in his 10 Premiership goals last term was a hat-trick against rivals Coleraine, who are the visitors on Saturday.

It will be a game against two in-form teams and, with four goals already this season, few would bet against McGrory adding to his four derby goals last term.

Why? Because of the genius of David Jeffrey.

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