Linfield legend Noel Bailie admits he is still “coming to terms” with the shock news that raged out of Windsor Park just after lunch-time on Saturday.
The Hillsborough man, who pulled on the famous blue shirt over 1,000 occasions in a career that spanned 25 years, couldn’t believe it when it was announced that David Jeffrey will stand down as Linfield boss at the end of the season.
Bailie is still on the scouting staff at Windsor and actually had a meeting with Jeffrey only a fortnight ago, but there was no indication of what was to follow.
“It was a total shock to me,” said Noel, who was affectionately known as ‘skipper’ at the club.
“David will have his reasons – and I think he has already stated that they will be aired in future months.
“I’ve a feeling he has sat down and taken stock. He’s been there for 17 years as manager, and another 10 or 11 years as player. It’s a lifetime.
“Everyone knows the job comes at a price, and unbelievable pressure. How he has managed to handle that for 17 yeas is beyond me.
“Away from the game, David has a high pressure job. It must have been difficult to juggle both, but he did it with a great deal of professionalism. The Linfield position also eats into your personal life.”
With 30 trophies racked up in his 17 years – and the possibility of more to come – Jeffrey now has the opportunity to sign off in style.
Bailie, however, was surprised at the timing of the announcement.
“Obviously, David has thought long and hard about it,” added Noel.
“To inform the players just two hours before a game was a bit puzzling.
“It could have either sent them into shock, or galvanised them. Thankfully, it had the desired effect as they demolished Ballinamallard by all accounts.
“There is a certain degree of pressure that comes with every managerial job, but it’s a lot worse at Linfield. He’s now the longest serving manager in the club’s history – and has carved his name in another successful chapter.
“But as he always stated to us, there is no individual bigger than the club.
“His departure not only leaves a huge void not only at Linfield, but in the Irish League in general. David is a great character with a missive personality – and that will be missed at every ground in the league.”
Bailie believes the pressure will now be heaped on the shoulders of Linfield’s Management Committee in nominating a successor.
“David came in as manager after the turmoil when Roy Coyle left and he turned things around in his own way,” added Noel.
“Club board members now must make the right decision in naming a replacement. Already there are a number of names being bandied about, but it has to be right for the club and the individual.
“It’s similar to Alex Ferguson’s departure at Man United. How do you follow an act like that. The Linfield job is certainly not as high profile as that, but the pressure will be on the next manager right from the off.”