Having deemed Saturday’s disappointment as an unwanted landmark moment in his storied career, an emotional David Jeffrey then urged his players to draw on that pain for future progress.
In the aftermath of the 1-0 reverse, the former Linfield boss was unable to recall another occasion across his time in management when he left the final field without any reward for a similar standard of performance.
“I cannot remember in any of my previous finals as manager when we played to that level and never came away with a victory,” he said. “We went for it every step of the way and were never going to sit back and accept a ‘respectable’ 1-0 defeat, so we changed our system and ended up with four men up front.
“In terms of courage and bravery we did everything, so I’m delighted with the performance.
“Last year at this stage I was deflated and mentally and emotionally we were not there, so there was a real determination to get back.
“I knew it was a mountain to climb but I wanted a performance of which to be proud.
“That’s as hard a defeat to take as ever.
“In the first half we hit the post and we did not play as well as we could but stepped up to the mark in the second half.
“We were disappointed with the goal, from back to front, having talked clearly about how to cope when Linfield’s centre-backs had the ball.
“It didn’t happen again, so that’s frustrating.
“My players were gracious in defeat, applauding our own fans but also the Linfield support.
“We also commend the players and staff of Linfield.
“The objective analysis is we did not take our chances and Linfield scored the goal, then defended marvellously so deserve to win it.
“But, sometimes in football, you do not get what you deserve as that was not just a commendable performance but an excellent performance by Ballymena.”
Now Jeffrey will switch focus back to league action and a weekend game with Linfield in which United trail David Healy’s side having played one game fewer in the Danske Bank Premiership.
“People maybe think it’s enough to get to a final and play okay but I’m absolutely gutted,” said Jeffrey. “The support turned out in massive numbers so as down as I am with the result and that we did not win the trophy, I cannot be anything else but proud.
“This group of players are the most unbelievably dedicated and they give everything, which keeps me going.
“It’s another step along the way, I’ve told the players to bank the emotion and let it come out when you need it in the future.
“We’ve taken every competition one at a time so this is part of the players’ education.
“Every experience you hope they will mentally and emotionally improve.
“Tactically, technically and physically they are very good.”