Belfast Telegraph

Ervin and DJ can relive glory days

Sky Blues defender aiming to help boss Jeffrey to success, just like he did during golden Linfield spell

By Graham Luney

Football really is a funny old game. When boyhood Linfield fan Jim Ervin left Windsor Park after a glorious nine-year spell to join Ballymena United in January 2014, it was then Blues boss David Jeffrey who waved him farewell with a heavy heart.

The full-back asked to be released after failing to secure a regular starting place with Jeffrey's side.

"This has been a desperately hard decision for Jim to take," said manager Jeffrey at the time. "I can totally empathise with him. He is approaching his 10th year at the club and he wants to play football.

"Jim has been granted his unconditional release in view of his loyal and faithful service over a considerable period and in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the success of the club.

"There is a lot of football left in Jim Ervin. This is the closing of one chapter and the beginning of the next.

"Because of the high standing we hold him in and because of his exceptional service, we are not setting any conditions on his release."

Fast forward to February 2017 and Ervin and Jeffrey are not only comrades again but the 31-year-old is the legendary manager's proud skipper leading out Ballymena United in an NI League Cup final against Carrick Rangers at Seaview tomorrow (5.30pm).

It's a case of warriors reunited - the Sky Blues are fortunate to have these winners in their ranks and Ervin's hunger for silverware has never diminished as he demonstrated in helping United to defeat his old club in the County Antrim Shield final last season.

He has two League Cup winner's medals from his Linfield days but the Braidmen have never won the trophy and the opportunity to make more history with his old mentor is putting an extra spring in Ervin's step.

"Everybody knows when I left Linfield, as a player you know when your time is coming to an end at a certain club. I spoke to Glenn (Ferguson) and I knew what Ballymena had started to put together," he said.

"I always knew coming here that there would be a possibility of winning something and I believed that there would be plenty of chances to win silverware.

"When I look back there's been an Irish Cup final, this will be the second League Cup final and a County Antrim Shield final. That proves that when I said I believed we could challenge, it has been the case.

"Since David's come in, there's been a big change at the club, not just on the playing side but behind the scenes that people wouldn't see or realise.

"Overall, 11 or 12 players left at the end of last season, new players came in and David has built on that again in January.

"Over all the 13 or so years I've been involved in Irish League football, this has probably been the most gruelling and hardest pre-season I've ever done.

"David always said it would stand us in good stead come the last 10 minutes of games or come the last two or three months of the season. We seem to have reaped the rewards when we have finished games strongly."

United have been dubbed 'the entertainers' this season with the goals going in at both ends of the pitch so the Sky Sports cameras should witness plenty of goalmouth action.

"We're a team for the neutral," said Ervin. "When we get beat, we get beat but when we win, we win in style. It's something we've tried to address - the manner of the defeats.

"But the belief we have in the squad is second to none. When the chips have been down, we've pulled ourselves out of a hole.

"When you look around the changing room, it's a very young squad and that can only be a good thing for us looking to the future.

"This final is going to be different for the press - they're going to label us as favourites but we won't approach it in that way. The cup finals that I've been involved in, we've went into as underdogs but we beat Linfield in their own back yard in a cup final.

"We did it in an Irish Cup fifth round before. We know what that's like and anything can happen in cup games. It's who turns up on the night. We'll be prepared and focused and we won't be looking at anything in terms of who are the favourites or not.

"When you look at the support we've had this year, attendances are up at the Showgrounds. We've had massive crowds of late. In this day and age, it's not easy for people to come out and go to matches.

"They can stay at home and watch football 24/7 on TV.

"We've been saying for years that we need to do more to get folk out to games. This year we've noticed a big difference and that's through the football that we're playing and the results that we're getting. When the chips are down in the last 15 minutes, that support drags you through."

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