David Jeffrey has been involved in plenty of of massive Boxing Day encounters both as a player and manager of Linfield.
Since taking over the reins at Ballymena United though Jeffrey has been left in no doubt about the the importance of the Sky Blues festive clash with their neighbours up the A26, Coleraine.
“Absolutely no doubt,” was Jeffrey’s response when asked if the game was as big as the ‘Big Two’ derbies. “When I was out of management I made the point of going to north Belfast to go see the Cliftonville versus Crusaders because I wanted to experience that.
“Ironically, the one I had planned was to see the Coleraine versus Ballymena one.
“My first experience of that was as a manager.
“I think it would be fair to say our supporters have been most helpful in informing me in the most impressive way at how much the game means.
“I’ve taken that on board and considered, digested and fully understand the message.”
Ballymena are riding high at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership thanks to a record unbeaten run, which has now reached 17 games.
This time last year the Bannsiders were sitting proudly at the summit, but currently find themselves in sixth place in the table.
Jeffrey though is expecting a tough test from Rodney McAree’s men, no matter what position either side are in the table.
“Coleraine are coming off a great result on Saturday after the disappointment of the game against Glenavon,” he said. “I knew there would be a response from Rodney against his former side, Dungannon Swifts.
“But in derby games form goes out the window.
“Certainly in the derby games I’ve been involved in.
“Whether it was Linfield versus Glentoran as a player and manager.
“Or when I played with Ards against Bangor.
“Everything just went out the window.
“Whoever we played in derby games, for whatever reason, form just went out the window.
“We’re just seeing it as a tough, tough game.
“Coming here Coleraine will be looking to give it their very best.
“I know our players will be looking to give it their very best and we’ll see how it plays out on the day.”
McAree is expecting a tough test at the current league leaders but he knows his side will be up for the festive fight.
“They have gone on an extremely long unbeaten run, going extremely well and sitting at the top of the league,” he said. “It’s going to be an extremely difficult game but Boxing Day derbies are unpredictable and we will certainly go there and compete.”
McAree made several changes to his side on Saturday as they edged out Dungannon Swifts.
The Bannsiders boss recalled James McLaughlin and Ian Parkhill and it paid dividends.
“To be fair to James he has worked really hard for the last four or five weeks,” said McAree. “He has put through the mill in recent weeks in terms of fitness.
“We have tested his hamstrings as much as we possibly can and he has got that little bit sharper.
“He got through an hour which is great and very important for us as that’s another body that we have available.
“He is one of the most natural goalscorers I’ve worked with and it’s great to see his name back on the score sheet.
“‘Parky’ is a great lad who is as honest as the day is long.
“I thought after the Glenavon match we needed to bring in players who were going to work extremely hard and there aren’t too many who will work any harder than him.
“We wanted to try and get him minutes, get him working up and down on the right hand side and I thought he did extremely well.”