A week that saw the rise and fall of two greats

Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey.
Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey.

Let’s just park all the other stuff that went on in local football over the last week and focus on what were two of the biggest decisions to rock local football for months.

These shocks concerned arguably, no, wait a minute, not arguably, without doubt, the best and most successful two managers in local football for the last couple of decades.

The news when it broke was unquestionably best termed the rise and fall of two all our all-time greats to ever have ruled the dugout in local football.

Let’s first deal with the rise back to the helm of football management of the ebullient, charismatic figure that is David Jeffrey after almost two years of a sabbatical.

Ballymena United moved quickly to secure the services of the tried and tested and remarkably successful ‘DJ’ on a three-year contract to fill their vacant managerial position, and boy what a superb choice they’ve made.

Now can we once and for all shred this myth that Ballymena United are incapable of winning proper major trophies and yes, I include league championships and Irish Cups in that assertion.

I read several comments last week (and some from people who should know better), which suggested United could never and would never be considered a major threat with regard to winning the big prizes in local football.

What a load of rubbish.

Ballymena United have the facilities, infrastructure, and the potential fan base to one day become Irish League champions, make no mistake about that.

For umpteen years this club, and its fans, have yearned for major success, but in spite of a succession of managerial appointments – incidentally all whom I feel were given ample time – it just never came to pass.

Real progress towards winning that first ever elusive league title never really happened with the result that Ballymena always flattered to deceive.

In spite of all the successive managers’ best efforts, and they all gave of their best, they just appeared unable to make up the gap that exists from being also rans to leaders of the pack.

The sacked Glenn Ferguson certainly deserves much credit for delivering two County Antrim Shield triumphs during his tenure, but clubs nowadays all look for progress in relation to league positions and together with that progress of course comes the possibility of European football and the extremely lucrative income which accompanies it.

But in spite of United’s good showing in cup competitions they were never really able to kick on in the league and that ultimately proved to be Ferguson’s downfall.

I live approximately 15 minutes from Ballymena, and believe me United have a potential fan base which is more that capable of producing numbers that will rival any other provincial club in the country, just offer them hope and honesty and they will turn out in massive numbers.

The Sky Blue supporters have been extremely patient over several barren years and I know some may have decided enough was enough and left.

But I think they will return in their numbers with the hope that DJ can finally light that blue touch paper and lead them to the promised land.

Now it is my firm belief that if anyone can deliver the big one to the Braid then it is none other than the big one himself, David Jeffrey.

Exciting times ahead are most certainly guaranteed, this man has undoubtedly got the midas touch, but it will take time – perhaps all and more of his three-year contract before real progress can be measured.

United have a few talented players, but far too many mediocre ones who are quite simply not good enough nor have the mettle to sustain a real go at winning an Irish League title.

DJ will show zero tolerance in terms of sentiment, in fact he may well be preparing the odd ‘P45’ as we speak, believe me.

David Jeffrey is as honest and committed as the day is long, and he will accept nothing but the same from each and every player who has the privilege of pulling on a Sky Blue shirt for the remainder of this season.

Yes I know, and so will David, that not everyone will be welcoming him back to the coal face of local football with open arms; he will have his sceptics and critics, but he is also well aware that the vast majority of doubters are primarily driven by jealousy, usually borne out of frustration and envy.

Indeed, everyone who has ever proved successful over the years will tell you exactly the same, so he is by no means alone there in that capacity.

So my message is now a simple one to all of the other teams in the Irish League who harbour genuine and real aspirations of winning the big prizes in local football – watch out because I can see a team in Sky Blue coming on strongly, and I mean that.

Not only is it great news for Ballymena United to see David Jeffrey back in football management, its also great for the local game itself.

We’re desperately crying out for characters in the local game and they don’t come any bigger than DJ – I for one am delighted to see you back where you belong, sir!

Now, sadly the other big managerial story of the past week was the fall of also one of our all time greats, Ronnie McFall.

Big Ron decided enough was enough and resigned last week after his team of misfits were knocked out of the Irish Cup by Lurgan Celtic from the Championship.

Honestly, my heart sank as I watched a man I have nothing but the utmost respect for having to make that long, lonely walk after the final whistle across the pitch at Shamrock Park from the dugout to the sanctuary of the home dressing room to a chorus of boos and a barrage of criticism from his own fans.

To devote 29 years of his life, and give nothing but total commitment to his hometown club, (a club he and his family love and adore), and for it all to end like this – all up in smoke – is beyond comprehension and shockingly sad.

Yes, I feel bitter about it because I know Ronnie well, I know the genuine love and passion the man has for football, and I’m bitter because it shouldn’t have ended like this.

This colossus of the local game deserved a much better swan song than the one he got.

And yes, I’m also bitter because in this instance I feel some of Ronnie’s players short-changed him big style.

Yes, of course it’s the manager who signs these players, but he does so in great faith, he does so because he genuinely believes they will improve his team.

But in Ronnie’s case some of these players just didn’t return the loyalty they should have to the man who was providing them with a structured platform at Portadown Football Club to display their God-given talent.

They just didn’t do the very least of what was expected of them and those who didn’t should be ashamed of themselves, it’s as simple as that.

It’s always the manager who takes the hit when things go wrong, and sometimes it’s totally warranted, but in terms of heart, commitment and desire, too many of Ronnie’s team came up well short.

In my day all great players were remembered for the two ‘A’s, that was ‘ability’ and ‘attitude’, but unfortunately too many of Ronnie’s players fell well short on the latter.

I wish Ronnie all the very best for the future, he will have a heavy heart, I know that for a fact.

But he can still play a big part in our game in some capacity, and he can without question hold his head up high in the knowledge that he always gave of his best, I wonder how many of his players can say the same?