Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders' Paul Heatley aiming to banish knockout pain

By Graham Luney

Paul Heatley says Crusaders are due a slice of cup glory after enduring an unhealthy dose of knockout pain.

The Crues suffered penalty shootout heartbreak in this season's County Antrim Shield and League Cup deciders.

But the tale of despair doesn't end there. The League Cup and Setanta Sports Cup were grasped in 2012 but the Seaview trophy cabinet has remained unlocked since then.

Linfield cut down the Hatchetmen in the 2011 and 2012 Irish Cup finals, while Cliftonville won back to back League Cup triumphs in all north-Belfast battles.

With Linfield, Cliftonville, Portadown and holders Glentoran out of this season's Irish Cup, the unfancied sides are queuing up to hit the big time but Stephen Baxter's side boast the most impressive recent cup pedigree.

Heatley is craving a silver lining at the end of a campaign which has featured pretty football on the Shore Road but as yet no glittering trophy.

Ahead of this afternoon's semi-final clash with Glenavon at Windsor Park (3pm), the former Carrick Rangers winger is targeting a magical day in May.

"You always like to come back stronger after suffering losses and our defeats in the County Antrim Shield and League Cup finals leaves us more determined to get to the Irish Cup Final," said the 26-year-old, who has netted 14 league goals this season.

"Glenavon are a good, strong, physical side with a good mix of youth and experience.

"They have some great young players making a name for themselves and I'm sure that they will give us a really tough game.

"Our experience of getting to more finals probably gives us the edge but we have suffered more than enough Irish Cup pain.

"If things had worked out differently against Linfield, Crusaders could have had two cup winner's medals but it wasn't meant to be.

"This game is huge in terms of how we hope our season finishes. I think the team is hitting form at the right time so if we can maintain that against Glenavon then they will have a great chance of getting to the final.

"This really comes down to whether we are going to have a reasonably successful season or a successful one. You want to cross the line and get your hands on a trophy."

Crusaders will need to bring their A game to Windsor as the Lurgan Blues, fresh from securing top six football, are hoping to make the final for the first time since 1998.

The Shore Road side will be without their box to box midfield maestro Declan Caddell, who is recovering from an ankle injury.

"Deccy is a big loss to us," added Heatley.

"But that's why you have a strong squad with quality players ready to perform and Richard Clarke has come to us and been excellent, winning the club player of the month."

Crusaders' league win over Portadown at the weekend leaves them in pole position to land a European spot and Heatley, who produced a wonder strike in the 3-1 triumph, feels the team are back in the groove.

"The league games have been very important because we are going for European qualification and it was pleasing to overcome Portadown and for me personally to get on the scoresheet," he added.

"It's always nice to see the ball go where you want it to but I have missed a few chances as well, including against Portadown, so you are delighted when they go in.

"We have drawn too many games in the league and our title bid fizzled out but in the cup competitions, our form has been fantastic."

* Glenavon fans plan to stage a ninth minute applause at Windsor Park today in honour of the club's legendary striker Jimmy Jones, who died in February.

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