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'I had nothing left': Ballymena United captain Jim Ervin on semi-final victory and facing 'massive favourites' Glentoran in Irish Cup decider

 

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Job done: Jim Ervin collapses to his knees in the centre circle as his Ballymena United team-mates rush to celebrate with goalkeeper Ross Glendinning

Job done: Jim Ervin collapses to his knees in the centre circle as his Ballymena United team-mates rush to celebrate with goalkeeper Ross Glendinning

Jim Ervin

Jim Ervin

PMAKER

Job done: Jim Ervin collapses to his knees in the centre circle as his Ballymena United team-mates rush to celebrate with goalkeeper Ross Glendinning

There was a brilliant picture taken after Ballymena United had beaten Coleraine in the Irish Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out with Sky Blues captain Jim Ervin on his knees in the centre circle and his team-mates running to celebrate with goalkeeper Ross Glendinning 50 yards away.

For Ervin, as professional as there is in Irish League football, there was relief having missed his penalty, joy at making it through to tomorrow's decider against Glentoran and a touch of exhaustion after a dramatic derby in which Kenny Kane equalised for United in injury time when Eoin Bradley's first-half free-kick looked like being the match-winner.

"I'd nothing left in the tank to run to Ross," admitted the Ballymena defender.

"It was a big ask for us all, and I think, being truthful, everybody had us written off, which is understandable given we were 10th in the league and they finished second.

"We had that in the back of our heads going into the game, no one was giving us a chance, but we had that belief in ourselves and knew what we could do.

"We felt if we could stay in the tie we could give Coleraine a game and then win it.

"The circumstances were probably not good for the ticker by scoring an equaliser in the 94th minute, then extra-time and penalty kicks - with me missing the first spot-kick.

"At 35 years of age you never know when you are going to get into another Irish Cup final, so when you realise you've gone through it's a mixture of everything, with pure relief to be there and then feeling ecstatic."

Earlier in the season, Ballymena were unfortunate to concede twice in injury time in losing the County Antrim Shield final 2-1 to Cliftonville, which was combined with a poor league campaign that was a bitter pill to swallow. But now the season could end with a flourish and European football.

Ervin has good and bad memories of Irish Cup finals. He won four during a successful spell at Linfield, but in 2014, four months after joining Ballymena United, he left the pitch after 20 minutes with a torn medial ligament and ruptured cruciate in a 2-1 final defeat to Glenavon.

Typical of Ervin, he bounced back from that long-term injury to become a Ballymena hero and will be an influential figure tomorrow night in his most surreal Cup final experience to date with only 500 fans in the ground.

"It's not going to be the usual Irish Cup final experience, with weeks of build-up, getting measured for the suit and then the pre-match arrangements and walking out on the pitch to soak up the atmosphere," said Ervin.

"We couldn't get showered at the ground after our match with Coleraine so I got home, showered and had some food and spent time with the kids."

Like against Coleraine, Ballymena will be underdogs versus Glentoran.

"You look at resources and Glentoran's rebuild since the takeover and the great job Mick McDermott has done," said evergreen Ervin.

"He has built on the squad they had and got the fans' backing, something some previous managers were not able to do.

"Glentoran are massive favourites but we will prepare the way we did for the semi-final, use the experience we have in our squad and be physically and mentally ready for the battle."

Belfast Telegraph