There was a time in the not too distant past that Linfield could almost claim to have owned the County Antrim Shield.
Three seasons in a row Blues captain Noel Bailie had the task of lifting the heaviest prize in local football above his shoulders.
The most recent, however, was in the 2005-06 season, when the Shield was the second part of the Windsor Park men’s Grand Slam.
That was when David Jeffrey’s side was untouchable and their domination in Northern Ireland lasted for three seasons.
A few months on from following up three successive league and cup doubles by finishing last season empty-handed, the transition that has been happening at Linfield is evident when out of the starting line-up that beat Glentoran 2-1 on Saturday, only Jim Ervin has a County Antrim Shield winner’s medal in his collection.
“It shows how much things have changed at the club in a short space of time that three-and-a-half years after winning the County Antrim Shield I am the only one who played in that final who is in the team,” said Ervin.
“I’d thought maybe Steven Douglas would have been involved, but he wasn’t. William Murphy was on the bench, Michael Gault suspended and Noel Bailie injured, but the rest of that team has all moved on.
“I am starting my sixth season at the club and I am one of the older players now. Outside of William Murphy and Noel Bailie, Michael Gault is our longest serving player and he’s only 26.
“Kris Lindsay and Jamie Mulgrew came in a year after me.
“The other lads have only been at the club a season or two and because we didn’t win anything last season they haven’t had the experience of winning something with Linfield. We’re in the semi-final of the County Antrim Shield now, our first chance to win something
this season and we’ll be looking to get into the final and give ourselves a shot and getting our hands on the trophy.”
Cliftonville prevented the Blues from claiming the Shield last season and the holders lie in wait again at the Oval in this evening’s last four contest.
And Ervin wants to give newcomers like Michael Carvill, Robert Garrett, Philip Lowry and Paul Munster a taste of what it is like to be part of a Linfield team that is winning trophies, rather than being runners-up.
“I remember my first medal at Linfield was the CIS Cup,” said the former Nottingham Forest trainee. “I was sitting in the dressing room with Oran Kearney after the match and we were both saying how great it was to get the first one. Luckily that season we went on to add another three and that’s what the aim has to be now for the new players.
“People say that it’s only the County Antrim Shield, but we’ve never thought like that.
“A lot of players in the squad don’t have a medal and haven’t played in a final and that’s what we want for them, but we know is going to be tough against Cliftonville.
“When you look back having won it and have the medal in your hand nobody says that it was only the County Antrim Shield.”
Tonight's game has a 7.30pm kick-off and will be played to a finish, with extra-time and penalties if necessary.