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Final flourishes

Tomorrow night’s clash with Ballymena United marks Cliftonville’s 17th appearance in a County Antrim Shield Final – and Paddy McLaughlin will take his side to Windsor Park with the aim of securing the Club’s 11th win in the historic competition.

The Reds’ first outing in a Shield decider came way back in the 1891/92 season, when Lancashire Fusiliers were defeated 2-1, with Belfast Celtic overcome by the same scoreline two years later.

Cliftonville made it three successful Final appearances in a row when Linfield were beaten 2-0 in 1897/98, with a first defeat coming when Glentoran’s Reserve team – who, curiously, had beaten their own senior counterparts in the last-four – achieved a 3-0 win in 1908/09.

Two years on, the Glens’ first team were 2-0 victors and, with the Final not contested in 1911/12, the Reds would lose consecutive deciders thanks to a 1-0 defeat by Linfield in the second replay following two goalless draws.

The Club’s biggest Shield Final triumph came in the 1925/26 campaign when Glentoran were thumped 5-1 but, five years further on, the same opponents would emerge on top by a 2-1 scoreline.

In 1950/51, Cliftonville and Ballymena drew 2-2 before the replay – which was actually played the following season – saw the Braidmen enjoy a 3-0 win, meaning the Reds’ wait for Shield glory extended to 1979, when goalkeeper Brian Johnston’s heroics in the penalty shoot-out earned a 3-1 success over Crusaders following a 0-0 draw at Seaview.

Spot-kicks would also prove the avenue to victory when they next reached the Final in the 1996/97 season, although not before some controversy when the initial clash with Ballymena was abandoned after a plastic bottle had been thrown from Windsor’s North Stand.

When the sides reconvened at the same venue a few weeks later, they produced no goals in 120 minutes of football before debutant goalkeeper Paul Reece’s save from former Cliftonville favourite – and now Club legend – Peter Murray’s penalty sealed a 5-4 win.

Two years later, the Reds went down to a tame 2-0 loss against Glentoran and would not get their hands on the famous old silverware again until 2006 when, in front of a huge crowd at The Oval, two Mark Holland goals saw the team roar from behind to earn a 2-1 success over Lisburn Distillery.

Another 2-1 win – over Linfield, this time – courtesy of strikes from Chris Scannell and Francis Murphy saw the Shield return to Solitude in 2008.

In November 2011, Cliftonville lifted their first trophy of the Tommy Breslin era when Martin Donnelly and Joe Gormley found the net in a 2-1 victory over the Glens at The Oval, while the Reds’ most recent triumph in the competition – and appearance in the Final – came when current Ballymena midfielder Jude Winchester registered the only goal of the Solitude decider with Bangor in 2015.

County Antrim Shield Final appearances
1891/92: Cliftonville 2-1 Lancashire Fusiliers
1893/94: Belfast Celtic 1-2 Cliftonville
1897/98: Cliftonville 2-0 Linfield
1908/09: Cliftonville 0-3 Glentoran II
1910/11: Cliftonville 0-2 Glentoran
1912/13: Cliftonville 0-0 Linfield; Cliftonville 0-0 Linfield; Cliftonville 0-1 Linfield
1925/26: Cliftonville 5-1 Glentoran
1930/31: Glentoran 2-1 Cliftonville
1950/51: Ballymena United 2-2 Cliftonville; Ballymena United 3-0 Cliftonville
1978/79: Cliftonville 0-0 Crusaders (Reds win 3-1 on penalties)
1996/97: Ballymena United 0-0 Cliftonville (abandoned); Ballymena United 0-0 Cliftonville (Reds win 5-4 on penalties)
1998/99: Cliftonville 0-2 Glentoran
2006/07: Cliftonville 2-1 Lisburn Distillery
2008/09: Cliftonville 2-1 Linfield
2011/12: Cliftonville 2-1 Glentoran
2014/15: Bangor 0-1 Cliftonville