David Jeffrey was left to lick his wounds last night after suffering what he called “the cruellest moment of my managerial career”.
The dejected Ballymena United boss showed raw emotion as he reflected on coming so close to winning the Braidmen’s first Irish Cup since 1989, choking back the tears as he spoke about what might have been.
“I’m 60 in October and I should be able to brush this off, but I can’t,” said Jeffrey as he filled up. “I hate getting beaten... and we worked so hard.
“It was cruel to take it so close, and I’m gutted for John Taggart, Don Stirling, David Blair, the rest of our committee, our supporters and the players, who gave absolutely everything.”
Adding some perspective to the occasion, Jeffrey reflected on the setback he endured when his Linfield team were undone by Glentoran at the same venue way back in the year 2000.
“The only time I remember anything like it was an Irish Cup Semi-Final when Winkie Murphy equalised only to see Sean Armstrong score the winner late on and I felt physically sick that day,” he said.
“Today was a different emotion. I could feel myself thinking, ‘We’re seconds away here, 90 seconds’, and I could nitpick about the added time, but it is what it is.
“If we take our chances, then the goal in injury time doesn’t matter. If we pick up for the set-piece, then it doesn’t happen but that was, without a shadow of a doubt, the cruellest moment of my managerial career.
“But I’ve got to say congratulations to Stephen and Crusaders, they kept going and going, so well done.
“You can look at it two ways and I’m going to be positive. We were playing a full-time team whose budget is bigger than ours and who have quality in depth.
“Crusaders were favourites — League tables don’t tell lies — however we worked tremendously hard to get our players to believe they can lift their game to be serious contenders and I thought they did that.
“We dominated the game but didn’t take our chances. David Parkhouse had a great chance and Ryan Waide needs to do better with his chance just into the second half.
“We’ve been in Finals before and didn’t win. We were the better side today but we didn’t win.
“Football can be a very cruel game, but when you’re on the floor you either stay down or get back up.
“On an occasion like this, when there is disappointment and there is frustration, that’s when you find out about people.
“It’s very easy to have those around you when things are going well, as I know too well. The time to look around you to see where you are at are the times when things haven’t gone so well. Everything went well today except the result.”