Joy for David Jeffrey’s Ballymena United as practice proves perfect on path to Irish Cup final

Practice ultimately proved perfect for experienced Irish League manager David Jeffrey and his Ballymena United squad.

By Patrick Van Dort
Tuesday, 28th July 2020, 6:00 am
Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey on the sideline during Monday's Irish Cup semi-final. Pic by Pacemaker.
Ballymena United manager David Jeffrey on the sideline during Monday's Irish Cup semi-final. Pic by Pacemaker.

A return to competitive football on Monday following the coronavirus-led lockdown turned a derby date against Coleraine on to the national stage with an Irish Cup final spot at stake.

And Ballymena moved within reach of trophy glory and European rewards by securing a penalty shoot-out success after fighting back from a first-half blow against the old enemy under the ‘new normal’.

Although many factors result in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out, Jeffrey took time out of the post-match celebrations to highlight hard work in preparation as key to the mental strength on top of the post-lockdown physical demands.

“We had a couple of practice matches, thank you very much indeed to Harryville Homers and Crumlin United, and as part of those games we included penalty practice, so we left nothing to chance,” said Jeffrey, who had Kenny Kane to thank for an injury-time equaliser to cancel out Eoin Bradley’s Coleraine free-kick finish. “It was a tight game, probably a difficult watch, but two teams who have a short time to prepare and went out and gave it their all.

“For my players, to keep going and do what they did, I’m so pleased.

“I said to the players this wasn’t going to be an 11-man game.

“The boys who came on gave us an impetus and energy…Kenneth Kane, I have to give so much praise to Bryan McLaughlin, he was in my ear, (he) wanted to make that change sooner.

“Eventually we decided...’we’ve got to go for broke here and we went for broke’.

“(Substitute) Aaron (Burns) with a header and Kenny’s deadly from two yards.

“I’ll put it on record that I wanted it to go straight to penalties, simply for the health and wellbeing of the players – and also the recovery time of whoever gets to the final; but it is what it is.

“Let’s be brutally honest, none of you thought Ballymena United would be in the final, and I understand that.

“Coleraine had a season this year like we had last year.

“If I’d been on the outside I’d have been very much of the opinion that they’d be the superior team – but we hung in there, kept going and going and going.

“I’m delighted for the players and everybody at the club.

“So now trying to make sure we recover as quickly as we possibly can – and we go again.”

Jeffrey had special praise for Steven McCullough following the decisive Ballymena United spot-kick by a player only cleared of suspension to play on Sunday.

“It was against Coleraine that I received two yellow cards,” said Jeffrey, who also had a ban overturned in advance of the semi-finals. “It was against Coleraine that I got a four-match suspension and Bryan McLaughlin got a three-match suspension.

“Then we had the situation with Steven and myself.

“While Cliftonville found out early in the day (that the suspensions would be cleared) we didn’t know until after 6 o’clock. But we never let that faze us, that never became our focus in any way.

“So it is most fitting and most ironic that he scores the decisive penalty.”

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