David Jeffrey is prepared to face his toughest task yet — but is warning Linfield’s rivals that they are more motivated than ever.
And the Windsor Park boss insists that complacency won’t be a threat to his team’s battle to win a fifth league title in six seasons.
When the new Carling Premiership season kicks off on Saturday, with the Blues facing Ballymena United, they will come under intense pressure from a number of teams striving to knock the champions off their perch.
Jeffrey won’t be quaking in his boots by any means though, with what was a squad of players that a year ago was being questioned now having shed their nerves and with major medals in their collections they want more.
“Last season was tough, but this will be the toughest, the most hard fought and tight yet,” said Jeffrey.
“Cliftonville have achieved a lot, finishing second last season, but there is a real statement of intent from Eddie Patterson when he says he wants more and they are a very good side.
“Portadown have made some excellent signings in Chris Ramsey, Henry McStay and Neil McCafferty — and Kevin Braniff is a top quality player. They will be there.
“Glentoran have been through agony and they will be fighting to get back, without any doubt.
“Crusaders are still strong, I see Coleraine being up there again and Lisburn Distillery won’t make as bad a start this time.
“Marty Quinn and Glenavon won’t want to flirt with relegation again. When you go through the whole league though, every team is capable of taking points of everyone else on their day.”
Taking his personal tally of league crowns as manager to eight wouldn’t just be highly significant for Jeffrey in the final year of his contract — with him craving another one next summer. The Blues are entering a milestone in their history, with a special year of celebrations planned in 2011 to make the club’s 125th anniversary.
There would be no bigger celebration or better way to mark the date than to yet again lift the Gibson Cup.
“We’re going into the club’s 125th anniversary year and the target is to win the 50th title,” said Jeffrey.
“The expectation level will go through the roof again.
“We’ve won four doubles in five seasons, but that’s all confined to the history books now.
“To win the 50th title in the 125th year would be a massive achievement, but I know how hard it is going to be. It’s going to be mega difficult.
“There is not an ounce of complacency and the players and myself are more motivated then we’ve ever been to bring more success to the club.
“The squad is better equipped now, much better, without any shadow of a doubt.
“I know it. I can see it in training, in pre-season games.
“Obviously players need to be encouraged and motivated, but they know what is expected of them, they know the demands.
“I think there was still a nervousness last year — a subconscious nervousness possibly bordering on apprehension.
“I look at Jamie Mulgrew, Robert Garrett and Alan Blayney who have gone away in the summer, won international caps and have come back more accomplished for the experience, but with very much their feet still on the ground.”
The title celebrations at Windsor Park last May were a turnaround from December, when three defeats on the trot had Jeffrey teetering on the brink of the sack. And he thought the axe was about to fall after the County Antrim Shield final defeat to Crusaders.
“Last season’s title win was the best because it was the toughest of all of them,” he said.
“And it was the toughest because I have never known a more exacting or difficult period.
“I remember vividly the chairman and the treasurer telling me that my position had been discussed.
“I put it immediately out of my head and there was no change in anything.
“The only way I knew to respond was to stand up and be counted and lead from the front.
“The cold snap was pretty significant, because we got Peter Thompson (pictured) back in and that was a big fillip. It also gave us time to consider things.
“The performance in the second-half against Crusaders was abject, yet we could have won the game. I thought that was it; I was gone. I was prepared for whatever was coming.
“The one thing that was never ever happening was me resigning. Never a hint of that.
“If you’re going to stand up and be counted you don’t walk away.”