When the final whistle blows at Mourneview Park tomorrow to end the Irish League fixture between Glenavon and Linfield, it will bring the curtain down on David Jeffrey's remarkable career as Blues boss. Jeffrey has been in charge at Windsor Park since January 1997, winning 31 trophies in that time. Ahead of his last game as Linfield manager, he talks to Steven Beacom
Steven Beacom: Your reign as Linfield manager is coming to an end, David. Any idea how you will after Saturday's game?
David Jeffrey: That is a conversation I have had with myself a number of times because after the Glenavon match that really will be it. As a player I was at Linfield for 10 years from 1982. When I left my ambition was to come back and manage the club. I returned in March 1996 as assistant manager and then became manager in January 1997 and will leave having done the job for 17 years and four months. This time will be different because it will be the end of my football career at Linfield and I'm trying to get my head around that. No doubt about it, a big chapter in my life is coming to a close. I suspect the enormity of that will hit me on Saturday.
SB: Are you still convinced you made the right decision to step down as Linfield boss when you announced it in February?
DJ: I know it is the right decision. Most definitely it is the right time for me, the right time for the club, the players and the supporters.
SB: Why are you so sure it is the right time?
DJ: You know when it is right for yourself and right for others.
SB: Your departure from Linfield has been the subject of much debate and discussion. So, what's the real reason for you going, David?
DJ: I came to the conclusion that it was the right time for me to step down. Let's just leave it at.
SB: Come on, Davy, spill the beans.
DJ: All I'm saying is that it was the right time for everyone at the club.
SB: Any regrets?
DJ: No, I don't think I have.
SB: What will you miss then?
DJ: Well, there will some things I won't miss at all, but I will miss working with the players and the nights on the training pitch and the anticipation and excitement ahead of the games. I'll miss time spent with the boot room staff after matches when my good friend Gary Eccles held counsel and we spoke about matches win, lose or draw and I'll miss the loyal and unstinting service of my assistant Brian McLaughlin, who is also stepping down from his Linfield role. I'll miss the supporters too, I've always said the most important people in the game are the supporters and the players. I made it my mission to serve both well.
SB: What advice would you give to your successor as Linfield manager?
DJ: Believe in yourself, believe that you are the best and stick by your principles.
SB: The rumour is that you are going to be the new Portadown manager. Let's clear it up. Are you going to Portadown?
DJ: Portadown already have a great manager and his name is Ronnie McFall.
SB: Okay then, do you ever see yourself managing again?
DJ: I am stepping down from the Linfield job, I'm not stepping down from football. I'm not retiring but I'm in no rush to get another job and am looking to take a little bit of time for myself to consider the way forward. If at some stage someone thinks I can do a job for them, then I'll have that conversation. If they don't, they don't. Whether I become involved in coaching again will depend on whether people want to employ me or not.
SB: You have enjoyed great success as Linfield boss, what's your happiest memories?
DJ: There are two that stand-out... one is doing the clean sweep, winning every trophy in a season. That was a magnificent achievement for everyone connected with the club and a dream for me. As a one off event, winning the Setanta Cup in 2005 will never be beaten. We were coming off the disappointment of losing the league and went down to Dublin to play an excellent Shelbourne side managed by Pat Fenlon with 26 full-time professionals. Nobody gave us a chance. I always felt we could do it though and drilled that into the players. Eventually they believed and we won 2-0. It was a truly great team performance and our fans, who turned out in large numbers that night, were immense. The coach journey home was wonderful.
SB: And the worst moment?
DJ: Again there are two. One is 'Morgan Day' in 2005, the year we won the Setanta Cup, when Glentoran beat us in the last minute at the Oval with a goal from Chris Morgan to virtually clinch the title. The other one, and Glentoran fans will love this, was when we played them in an Irish Cup tie at Windsor Park and William Murphy scored an equaliser in injury time for us only for them to score through Sean Armstrong seconds later to win the game. I remember collapsing to my knees when that goal went in. It was tough to take.
SB: You've managed many outstanding players. Could you pick the best Linfield XI who played under you?
DJ: I'm not sure I could. There are obviously players who will stand out at various parts of my career but 179 players played under me at Linfield and all of them have contributed one way or another.
SB: Who have been your toughest opponents?
DJ: When you are Linfield manager there are no easy games because every team tends to raise their level. I guess the hardest would be Roy Coyle's Glentoran team, Ronnie McFall's Portadown, Stephen Baxter's Crusaders and more recently, Tommy Breslin's Cliftonville side who have now won back to back titles. I sent my congratulations to Tommy this week because it takes a good team to win a league, but a better one to retain it. They are in a very powerful position now and will be hard to shift.
SB: How would you like to be remembered at Linfield?
DJ: As someone who supported the club, played for the club, captained the club and managed the club and only ever wanted to do his very, very best for the club. To be honest, I lived the dream and feel thankful to have had the opportunity to do that.
By Steven Beacom
David Jeffrey has launched a scathing attack on the Irish Football Association's treatment of Irish League football over the past decade.
Preparing to finish his 17-year reign as Linfield manager, Jeffrey says the governing body of the sport here has not done enough to promote the local game and offers the damning assessment that the IFA have neglected the product, preferring to focus on the international set-up, when both should go hand in hand.
It is typical straight talking from Jeffrey who, despite leaving the biggest club in the country, wants Irish League football to prosper, not perish.
"In my opinion for a long time the only football the IFA have thought about has been international football. They look at part-time Irish League football and they don't give it the support it deserves, warrants and needs," blasted Jeffrey.
"In terms of promoting the product, you have to create an interest and in my opinion for too long the authorities have not done that well enough. That's a pity because we have more than a half decent product.
"There obviously needs to be investment in grounds and facilities for supporters. Fans want a match day experience and to be entertained and enjoy a day out in decent facilities. It wasn't that long ago we had between 12,000 and 15,000 at Linfield v Glentoran games. You don't get that now, that's for sure.
"I would go as far to say that Irish League football has been neglected by those in authority. It needs to be supported and helped with fresh ideas because if not it will die on its feet.
"When Northern Ireland had success in 2005 and 2006 beating the likes of England and Spain, I think some in the IFA got carried away with themselves relating to international football and forgot everything else.
"Now the Northern Ireland Football League are running local football and have carried out surveys and consultations with those involved in the game and I really hope they succeed in their aims to take our game forward.
"I look enviously at rugby and GAA and admire how they are organising things and it does sadden me that Irish League football has been left behind. Instead of focusing on international football, the powers that be should have been focusing on all levels of the game because then our structures from top to bottom could have been much better."
Jeffrey will co-commentate alongside Jackie Fullerton for the BBC's Irish Cup final coverage next weekend. He adds that he would love to see a television show here dedicated to Northern Ireland football, similar to that screened by RTE .
He says: "I look at the Republic and see a football show on RTE every Monday night and it is all about football at the different levels be it international level, the Republic players playing in England and the local league.
"They are promoting it big time and it is joined up promoting with one bit impacting on another. It would be a big help for Irish League football to have a show like that in Northern Ireland."
By Steven Beacom
David Jeffrey is not one to hold back. For example, read his hard hitting opinion above on how he feels the Irish Football Association has failed Irish League football.
Also look at what he says about his future. He will be back.
And see his thoughts about his final game in charge of his beloved Linfield tomorrow against Glenavon, where his family and friends will be in attendance. He openly admits he is still trying to get his head round it.
He's not the only one.
Many involved in the local game and some outside it are still bemused at how a man who has won 31 trophies for the club, including nine league titles, is being allowed to leave the club so easily.
Jeffrey says quite simply that the time is right, but why is the time right?
The 51-year-old did not wish to elaborate in our interview. That was a first.
Maybe he doesn't want to air the club's dirty linen in the public, perhaps an agreement has been reached between board and manager not to divulge the finer details of his departure or with Warren Feeney about to take up the reins at Windsor Park everyone might just want to move on.
I suspect all of the above apply. Still, people always want to know the inside track.
Here's my take...
The relationship between some Linfield directors and Jeffrey degenerated to such a frosty level in recent years that you could find warmer boardrooms in Antarctica!
Even when Jeffrey was winning all those trophies, some board members weren't enamoured by the larger than life character managing their club.
With tensions fraught, he could have gone last season, but stayed on in the cold which reached freezing point after Jeffrey, during a private Linfield function, was caught on camera singing 'Thank you very much for Jimmy Callacher' in reference to a Glentoran player the Blues were about to sign, but had not snapped up at the time.
Jeffrey's X-Factor audition was soon on social media, which to the Linfield boss is about as foreign as Flemish. He was naïve and silly.
It was an embarrassing episode, but once the fuss died down, it became a laughing matter to most.
Not inside the Linfield boardroom, though, where it was felt shame had been brought on the club.
Jeffrey faced internal disciplinary action. Forget the Blues v Glens, this was Jeffrey v the board – a Big Two battle no one could win.
The breakdown was doing the club no good at all. Jeffrey knew he had to leave his dream job to stop the nightmare.
When in February he made it clear he wanted to step down as boss at the end of the season, nobody attempted to stop him knowing 'the time was right'.
At least everyone was agreed on that!
Going for a song. That's how this incredibly successful era in Linfield's history finished.
Hopefully DJ will be back in a dug-out somewhere soon.
Irish League football would be a duller place without him.