David Jeffrey’s record as an Irish League manager speaks for itself, writes John Gillespie.
The former Linfield supremo won a staggering 31 trophies during a 17-year spell in charge at Windsor Park, including nine League titles, seven Irish Cups, six League Cups and six County Antrim Shield successes.
But this weekend, as Larne FC celebrate their 125th anniversary, he will have the chance to cast his mind back to where his pathway to managerial success began.
After establishing himself as a hero for Blues fans during a decade as a player, Jeffrey joined Ards before making the move to Larne in 1995. His switch to Inver Park would prove to be, in his own words, an “extremely formative time” when at the age of 32 he took on the dual role of player and assistant boss to Shea Hamill.
Larne is where he cut his teeth in management, a steep but enjoyable learning curve on the road to becoming an Irish League great.
“I have unbelievable memories of my time at Larne,” Jeffrey told the Times. “I joined the club when Shea Hamill was manager and what appealed to me in the first instance was that I was going to be a player and assistant-manager.
“It meant I would continue to play, but it wasn’t just as a player-coach (a position he had held at Ards). I was involved, not just in terms of team selection, but the signing of players, the budgetary side of the house and engaging with the board. It was probably a fuller role and I will forever be grateful to Larne Football Club and to the people and supporters of Larne for that opportunity. They played a very significant part in my own development as a manager.”
As a player Jeffrey made 22 appearances for Larne and scored one goal but under Hamill he got a true sense of what management entailed.
“It was a very happy time and an extremely formative time. Shea was great in that, while he was very much the manager, he involved me in all aspects of the club,” he said.
“It was then that I really began to realise that football management wasn’t just about turning up to training and picking a team for the Saturday. The are so many other aspects to it, whether it’s the relationship with the board, the chairman, the supporters or the relationship with the players or the other coaching staff or with the media. It really was a very good grounding.
“I was really pleased when David McAlinden came to Larne. I think he’s a really bright, good young manager. If he is given the same opportunity - albeit I was assistant-manager - it will certainly help.”
And it was at Larne that Jeffrey linked up with Brian McLoughlin and Barry McClung - men who would go on to become key personnel at Linfield.
“With Brian, who I say was my best signing ever at Linfield, it was Larne where our partnership flourished.
“Larne Olympic were looking for a manager. Brian, having played at Larne, I remember approaching him. I’ll never forget talking to him and he said he would take it but he said the second-team has to be treated the same as the first-team. They can’t be poor cousins. I thought, here’s a man of principle and [he] was very impressive.
“Also Barry McClung, who has sadly passed away. I don’t know if other clubs were doing this but Barry would compile reports on opposition teams. Prior to every game we were getting reports. Brian came with me to Linfield and Barry then came along too.”
Saturday’s trip down memory lane should prove to be a great night for all in attendance.
Larne Football Club, through the good times and the bad, is still running 125 years since its formation in 1889 and while the club hasn’t had a trophy success to shout about for more than a quarter of a century, it’s rich history and all that it has brought to the sporting life of the town and Northern Ireland is definitely worth celebrating.
Jeffrey, one of the club’s most high-profile former servants, may be the main draw for the big night, but he was quick to pay tribute to the event organisers.
“There are two types of people in the world,” he said. “Those who are willing to work and those who are willing to let them. Usually the numbers willing to work are small but very committed and dedicated.
“It was quite some time ago that I was contacted by Archie Smyth (Larne FC chairman) and more latterly by Ian Cahoon.
“I know they have a band of men who are putting all the efforts in to make it a fantastic evening and they deserve immense credit.
“While it’s always important to have a decent manager, good coaching staff and good players, the strength of any club are those who are behind the scenes.
“Players will come and go. Managers will come and go, but supporters and lovers of the club never go. The efforts they have made are absolutely fantastic.”
INSET: David Jeffrey in action for Larne against Ballymena United in 1995.