CRUSADERS boss, Stephen Baxter claims the prospect of being crowned All-Ireland champions has proved to be a quick-fire cure for his players’ Irish Cup Final hangover.
SIMON COLLINS reports
Following the Shore Road club’s dismal 4-1 collapse to Linfield in last Saturday’s Irish Cup showpiece, Baxter is anxious to remedy the malaise surrounding the club with the completion of a memorable cup ‘double’ in tomorrow’s Setanta Sports Cup Final at The Oval.
The Irn Bru League Cup champions can become just the second Irish League club to win the cross border trophy since its inception seven years ago, following in the footsteps of Linfield who won the inaugural tournament back in 2005, and Baxter is excited about flying the flag for the I.F.A.
“It’s not often you get a chance to go to these finals,” said the Crusaders manager. “We’re only the third Irish league team to compete in the final so it’s a big occasion for everybody and we’re all very excited to be there.
“I think it will be an easy task to lift the players from last weekend’s defeat,” added Baxter. “If you lose a game of that magnitude and your season ends on Cup Final day, you go away for two months and it sits in your system for that length of time.
“Whenever you lose and don’t play to your potential you can’t wait to get another game. Thankfully we have a chance to rectify that this Saturday.
“It’s a huge game of football for everyone concerned at our football club and obviously Derry City will feel the exact same way. We’re excited about the game because we have two northern teams in the final and there is a big crowd expected from both sets of fans.”
The ‘Candy Stripes’ are regarded as favourites to claim their first Setanta Sports Cup title having taken the scalps of League of Ireland champions, Shamrock Rovers and Irish League champions, Linfield along the way.
However, Baxter hasn’t paid much attention to the bookies’ odds, insisting his side won’t feel out of their depth at the East Belfast venue tomorrow afternoon.
“We recognise that Derry are a fabulous team and therefore it’ll be a tough game for us,” he said. “They’ve beaten Linfield and Shamrock Rovers but, at the same time, we’ve done very well since Christmas ourselves and we’ll go into the game with confidence.
“We played Sligo and beat them over two legs and therefore we feel we’ve got every chance of winning the game. It’s not as if we’re thinking we’re completely out of our depth. We’ll go into the game with huge respect for them but knowing that if we play to our full potential we can win the game.
“We might be slight underdogs but we won’t be approaching the game thinking about whether we’re favourites or underdogs. We’ll approach the game with a professional attitude, the way you prepare for a match of this size.”
Some might argue that the Setanta Cup has lost its appeal among supporters and clubs north of the border but Baxter insists the competition is still high on the agenda of Irish League clubs.
“I think there’s definitely a place for a tournament like this and I think it’s important that the tournament is kept alive. To pick up the crown of All-Ireland champions is a big thing.
“It didn’t suit us last year because we were chasing so hard to win the Championship and were in the semi-final of the Irish Cup and with clubs our size you have to spread your resources a bit.
“And with Irish League clubs coming to the end of our season and with the southern teams just getting into their season, it’s a difficult thing to balance up.
“You’ll always get managers saying it doesn’t suit them but you have to get on with the game in hand. If you go on a bit of a run and get into this final, the popularity of the competition will be proved by how much teams want to win the match.
“That’s how you can value the competition and I’m sure Declan (Devine) will be busting to win the cup final as we will be. If you ask us managers, we’re very much behind it.”
Both teams go into tomorrow’s cup final on the back of disappointing defeats but Baxter is confident he can motivate his players for one last time this season.
And the incentive of winning the E40,000 prizemoney and going into the summer break with another trophy in the cabinet is extremely appealing for the Crusaders boss.
“We’re both coming off a bad defeat and one of the teams will have to bounce back to win this cup. We would love to win a double,” he added. “It’s our third final of the year and it would be nice to cap the season off with a win.”