Glenn Ferguson eyes Ballymena County Antrim Shield success

By Richard PetrieBBC Sport NI

After picking up 30 medals during a distinguished 21-year playing career, Glenn Ferguson is hoping to secure his first trophy as a manager when he leads Ballymena United into battle against former club Linfield in Tuesday night's County Antrim Shield final.

The Sky Blues' last appearance in a domestic cup final came against the same opposition in the 2006 Shield decider when Ferguson scored a late winner to seal a 2-1 success for the Blues.

"I'm always hearing about the club's last trophy success being the 1989 Irish Cup final and while they have been in a few finals since, they weren't able to pick up any silverware," said the 43-year-old.

"I remember Kevin Kelbie putting Ballymena in front in that final six years ago, then Oran Kearney equalising, and Kelbie hitting the bar. I was fortunate enough to pop up with the winner.

"Linfield will be favourites again this time and it will be a tough night for us, but it is an occasion I want my players to enjoy.

"They will be nervous and there will be a few butterflies in the tummy but once you get your first touch of the ball and the first 10 or 15 minutes under your belt, it just becomes another game of football.

"We have players who can win matches on their day and if we win that will be great, but if the players give everything they have and lose, then we can't ask any more of them. I just hope we give a good account of ourselves."

The prolific striker plundered 563 goals in more than 1000 appearances for Ards, Glenavon, Linfield and Lisburn Distillery, leaving him second only to Jimmy Jones in the list of all-time scorers in Irish League football, and also won five Northern Ireland caps.

Having been part of the backroom team at Distillery, Ferguson was handed the managerial reins at Ballymena at the end of December and four defeats in 33 competitive matches represents a promising start.

He has been joined on the Ballymena bench by three former Linfield colleagues - Lee Doherty, Norman Kelly and Wes Lamont.

"I've known the three of them for a long time and they're very knowledgeable about the game," said the Sky Blues' boss, who won the Northern Ireland Football Writers' April Manager of the Month award after just a few months in charge.

"We've had a good reaction from all the players since we came in - I like to give everyone a fair crack of the whip, but discipline is also important, and we've been building up the lads' fitness.

"They have all reacted well and seem happy with how we're doing things, although as coaches we are learning all the time.

"I want players who are willing to work hard and put in a good shift, boys who want to play football and aren't as concerned about the money side of things.

"I particularly enjoy working with the strikers and have tried to pass on some of my knowledge, experience and positional sense. They're still young and have a lot to learn but they are picking up wee bits all the time and we're trying to help them become better players.

"We were going well until we were thumped 6-0 by Linfield and then 8-0 the following week by Cliftonville.

Glenn Ferguson was a playing hero at Windsor Park
Glenn Ferguson won seven County Antrim Shield medals as a player

"That was a bit of a wake-up call and highlights that we are still very much on a learning curve, but generally the players have held their own and we're pleased with how it's gone so far."

The £55,000 transfer fee which Linfield paid Glenavon for Ferguson's services in January 1998 is still a league record, and is likely to remain so, given the present trying economic times.

"We are working within strict financial constraints and when you see other clubs bringing in players on big wages, you wonder how they are doing it, but somehow we have to compete.

"We will have to strengthen the squad, those recent heavy defeats proved that - hopefully we can add some new faces in January.

"We're looking at the deficiencies in our panel and trying to put them right.

"Our aim is to make the top six when the split comes in March and if we maintain some momentum that is possible. Also, we wanted to try and reach a cup final and now we've achieved that."

Ferguson adds that he has picked up useful tips from the various managers he has played under, but wants to "put his own stamp" on the Showgrounds outfit and "do things the way I want to do them".

"It can be frustrating watching from the sidelines but I had a good playing career until I was more than 40 years of age, without serious injury, and have made the transition from player to manager, which is what I wanted to do.

"It has happened pretty quickly for me and I'm delighted to be involved with a club like Ballymena with a solid support, great training facilities and pitches, and a Board who have been very supportive of me."