Belfast Telegraph

Chance of an historic double is spurring us on: Burns

Billy Joe Burns is one of those players every club needs - he's got a big-game mentality and knows what it takes to win.

After spending eight years at Windsor Park - the toughest environment any Irish League footballer could face - he's well used to the pressure that accompanies season-defining moments.

And we are just a few hours away from a season-defining moment for Crusaders and Linfield.

When the right-back made a surprise exit from the Blues in 2014, Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter was quick to pounce and it was one of the best moves he has made as Seaview supremo.

Burns brought with him that experience of winning league titles - he won three doubles with Linfield - and the Ulster Footballer of the Year accolade he earned last season underlines his contribution to the Hatchetmen's cause.

The 27-year-old will inevitably have an extra spring in his step when he comes up against his old club but Burns also possesses that hunger and desire that every player needs.

There will be fireworks at Seaview today when the sides meet in the quarter-finals of the Tennent's Irish Cup but the side which handles the occasion better will win.

A lack of discipline could prove costly - it's a time for cool heads as well as clinical finishing.

"I think there is pressure on both teams for different reasons," said Burns.

"Linfield fans will be saying the league is over even though it isn't and it's a last chance for major silverware.

"We will not be thinking about that and the Linfield players will still be fighting for everything and not giving up.

"Looking at it from our perspective, this club has never won a double before and that's another big incentive for the players.

"Since I've been here we haven't won the Irish Cup and there's been a few disappointing semi-final defeats so we'd like to change the record and get across the line in this competition.

"We want to get to the final and win it - that's our simple target.

"Linfield got a taste of it in last year's final against Glenavon and although they lost that game they will be motivated to return, go one stage further and put in a better performance.

"It's a brilliant occasion, the biggest day out for the players and fans.

"I've been fortunate to win it three times with Linfield and it would be nice to have that feeling with Crusaders."

Linfield won 2-1 at Seaview in the Danske Bank Premiership on New Year's Eve because they wanted the victory more than Crusaders. Fed up with constant criticism regarding their weak performances against the champions, the players were fired up to reverse the tide.

The players' mental strength and character had been questioned so they needed to come up with the right answers.

And the Blues' County Antrim Shield final win over the north Belfast side at the Ballymena Showgrounds was further confirmation that the fear factor has gone and David Healy's side have found a way to break Crusaders' spirit.

Both teams are evenly matched when going toe-to-toe but the Crues' strength in depth has helped secure back-to-back titles and leaves them in a healthy position to make it a hat-trick.

"Whenever we have lost matches we have been able to regroup quickly and put a good run together and we've done it again this year," said Burns.

"There's an old saying that squads win championships and Stephen (Baxter) has needed a strong bench to keep his side on the right track. The squad has got quality but there are also no egos which is important.

"Players have missed out for long periods but have still been brilliant when called upon.

"Everyone has had a part to play because there have been a few occasions when we have been down to the bare bones but have coped well.

"That is testament to Stephen (Baxter) and the squad.

"Players like David Cushley and Michael Carvill were not involved for spells but when they have returned to the team they have been magnificent.

"Everyone knows they have a huge contribution to make if the team want to win the title again."

Burns' defensive partner Howard Beverland was suspended for the 1-1 draw at Portadown last Saturday and perhaps it was no surprise the visiting defence endured a tough night.

"Howard has been fantastic and from playing against him the boys knew he was talented but looking from the outside there was a question whether he could perform at a high level consistently," said Burns.

"Now that he is playing in a very strong team we are seeing that consistency and he's been very strong whether he has partnered myself, Colin Coates or Michael Gault in the centre of defence.

"Despite having different partners at the back, he has shown his class.

"I would agree with the view that Howard is a contender for Player of the Year and hopefully he can get that first league winner's medal and Irish Cup win as well."

Burns and his comrades will need to turn on the power today if they hope to silence Linfield. Lose this one and their title challenge will fall under even greater scrutiny.

If Linfield taste defeat it could be five seasons without major silverware for them - an unthinkable scenario after the six doubles in seven seasons under David Jeffrey.

Let battle commence.

Belfast Telegraph


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