Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders v Glenavon Charity Shield: Star names will add more fuel to a fiery title battle says Crues' boss Baxter

By Graham Luney

Stephen Baxter believes the arrival of household names will make the new Danske Bank Premiership season a real thriller.

The Crusaders boss did most of his transfer business early, bringing Michael Dougherty, Marcio Soares, Jordan Lyttle, Howard Beverland, David Cushley, Michael Gault and Philip Lowry to Seaview and rivals have responded by spending big.

Glentoran supporters helped the club land former Rangers favourite Nacho Novo, while Linfield have brought in Roy Carroll and Sammy Clingan.

Glenavon, who host Crusaders in the Charity Shield tomorrow, are hoping to see former Celtic star Paddy McCourt weave his magic too.

Fans are in for a real treat and while the fresh faces may be in the autumn of their careers, there is no doubting their class.

The Irish League is certain to gain a few new supporters in the months ahead but as far as the managers are concerned, the glamour names are here for a reason - to help them knock Crusaders off their perch.

The north Belfast side are aiming for a third successive title triumph, a record so difficult it has only ever been achieved by Linfield and Belfast Celtic.

Rivals have underlined their hunger to be top dogs again by bringing star names to the league and Baxter says it's great news for the domestic game.

"Glenavon, Linfield and Glentoran have signed experienced players, some with international experience, and that is fantastic for our league," said Baxter.

"We already have a great product but the addition of quality players can only lift its profile further.

"Over the last two or three years, Irish League football has been fantastic and I've always said it was more entertaining than watching some of the boring Premier League matches in England.

"Give me Irish League entertainment any day of the week rather than watch the teams in England playing football that goes nowhere.

"The players have played on the highest stage and they will be looking to show their class again. The Premiership teams are very capable and this year has shown if you write anyone off you could end up looking foolish."

Baxter will be hoping the star names struggle to adapt to the Irish League as he knows his own squad is full of players who know what it takes to win on the domestic stage.

What is clear is that despite all the success the Crues have enjoyed in recent years, they will face their toughest challenge as they chase down a third title on the bounce.

Baxter added: "Our focus is on winning the title again and the new players I have brought to the club will help fire the ambition and hunger of the team.

"For a team to win three titles in a row, that's not done too often which is an indication of how tough an assignment it is.

"That's why we have made changes to freshen up the panel and we can expect tough challenges from four or five teams that are looking to improve on their performances from last season."

One of the Premiership new boys, Clingan, featured for Linfield as they beat Lisburn Distillery 4-0 at Ballyskeagh last night. It was the Northern Ireland midfielder's first game after a 16-month injury nightmare.

  • Linfield are on the verge of signing teenage midfielder Matt Lynch from Glenavon.

Crusaders - Glenavon, Charity Shield: Mourneview Park, Tomorrow, 3.00pm

Belfast Telegraph


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