Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders desire to battle for one another is driving glory mission: Clarke

By Graham Luney

Crusaders players are going into 2015 dreaming of earning legendary status at Seaview.

The team manager Stephen Baxter calls 'the wee club from the Shore Road' have big ambitions this year and they could even be crowned league champions for the first time since Roy Walker's heroes weaved their magic in 1997.

It's been a long wait for the Gibson Cup at Seaview and that wait has become more uncomfortable as the champagne has flowed for two years running across north-Belfast at the home of Cliftonville.

Perhaps the Reds' historic achievements have given their neighbours the belief that anything is possible and, as the Hatchetmen lie four points behind leaders Linfield going into today's blockbuster battle at Seaview, Baxter's troops are clinging to the hope they can win this war. Midfielder Richard Clarke is one of many players on the Shore Road hungry to add a league winner's medal to their collection and a Boxing Day victory at Solitude sends them into the new year with a purpose to their stride.

The former Glentoran man says he's never experienced a better atmosphere in a dressing room and with Barry Molloy and Stephen O'Flynn putting their shoulders to the wheel, Crusaders' dream may be realised come May.

"At the start of the season you determine your objectives and one of ours was to challenge for the league title," said Clarke.

"We are in a position to challenge and that's very encouraging but we are still always aware that you are one or two games from falling away.

"But three wins on the bounce and three clean sheets has given us a lot of confidence and I've never known a better dressing room in my career. There is real togetherness there and I'm just one of the many players who wants a league winner's medal for the first time, that's a huge incentive.

"You need to have a great atmosphere in the dressing room to achieve anything and we have that."

However, Crusaders aren't the only side dreaming of grasping the Gibson Cup and today's opponents Linfield are in pole position to land the glittering prize.

"Cliftonville will come back strongly but you have to give Linfield massive credit," added Clarke. "They are beating the teams you need to beat if you want to win the title and they have shown character and fight. Warren (Feeney) has a very talented group of players and you can never write off a team like Linfield.

"They have that winning mentality but we are enjoying our football at the minute and winning games breeds confidence and hopefully we can win another big one to start off 2015 in style."

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