Belfast Telegraph

Linfield manager continues to make critics eat their words

By Graham Luney

Glentoran fans love to hate David Jeffrey but even they would concede that the Irish League would be much poorer and a lot less colourful if characters such as the Linfield manager weren’t around.

In fact many sensible supporters around the Irish League have enormous respect for the man who has survived so long in a high pressure environment and is still making fools out of his critics.

Despite bringing the Gibson Cup to Windsor Park eight times — not to mention four doubles in five seasons with another Irish Cup final on the horizon — Jeffrey has soldiered on even without always having the full backing of everyone on the club’s management committee who have the power to hire and fire.

That’s why the club’s 50th title triumph means more to him than the rest and he has never thought about walking away from it all because the passion he feels for the club runs so deep.

Most supporters only see the public image of Jeffrey, a man who is motivated by an insatiable appetite to bring success to Linfield, but few people know him as well as his right hand man Brian McLaughlin.

McLaughlin was appointed assistant manager at Windsor Park just two weeks after Jeffrey arrived in 1997 and the rest, as they say, is history.

“There is unbelievable pressure from inside the club on David,” admitted McLaughlin.

“That relays down to me but the expectation levels to win comfortably and attractively are so high.

“David has been here for 14 years and only very few people could do this job. To do this job you need broad shoulders and a thick skin and to be very, very committed.

“It’s not like anywhere else. I have been at smaller clubs where big achievements are celebrated, here they are expected. A box is ticked, it’s thanks for the memories, let’s win the cup.

“Other teams can survive under that pressure for months — we live with it week in, week out. If we have a bad fortnight questions are asked and for me it is unacceptable because we are all trying to do our best.

“The manager knows how to win leagues and cups — let him go and do the job and let the players play. If criticism and pressure comes from within the club that doesn’t help.”

McLaughlin added: “David is an extremely genuine person. Five minutes before the match (at Lisburn Distillery) ended I saw him give his wet top to a supporter.

“Big Gary (Eccles), the kit man, tortures him because he’s giving stuff away all the time. He gives so much but he also needs to get away and get his head cleared.”

The sense of relief felt by Jeffrey and McLaughlin after a title success has never been greater as it’s the 50th victory in the club’s 125th year.

“The 50th title in the 125th year weighed heavily on everyone and David had emphasised that to the players, the responsibilities they carry here at Linfield,” added McLaughlin. “But nobody wins everything all the time and if they did, our game would be boring.”

McLaughlin, like Jeffrey, is still excited by the next challenge.

“It’s been a long 14 years but I still have the driving enthusiasm,” he said. “The key for us is the players, bringing new guys in and driving them on the Linfield way. That excites you.

“The club has its ambitions but that’s what drives us on, working with the players and boys like Noel Bailie. Noel is an incredible person — you won’t hear a bad word about him from inside or outside the club.”

Linfield are giving serious consideration to retiring the number 11 shirt, worn with such distinction by Bailie, when he retires after the Irish Cup final.

But McLaughlin revealed that the Blues are not ready to let a legend walk off into the sunset.

“It would be good to retire the jumper,” he added. “Noel deserves it. I know Noel’s playing career will come to an end but we would like to come up with a role for him regarding the first team and he is delighted with that.

“Noel wants to stay within the club and there will be a role there for him. There will never be another Noel Bailie.”

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