Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill still ignoring title hat-trick hype


By Alex Mills

Goalkeeper Sean O'Neill admits he has no intentions of becoming caught up in any title winning hype - even with only two games remaining.

Reigning champions Crusaders are closing in on a record-breaking hat-trick of Danske Bank Premiership successes, which would catapult the club into new territory, joining Linfield and Belfast Celtic as the only teams to rack up triple triumphs.

The Shore Road boys held their nerve in a tense clash against Coleraine in midweek, becoming the first side to down the Bannsiders in 18 outings.

Coming on the back of another gut-churning win over North Belfast rivals Cliftonville a few days earlier, the result helped the Crues maintain their slender one point advantage over David Healy's Linfield, who are still snapping menacingly at their heels.

Tomorrow, Stephen Baxter's troops travel up the M2 for another testing challenge against David Jeffrey's Ballymena United, a team that celebrated a refreshing victory over Cliftonville last time out.

It's now down to a battle of nerves - and O'Neill believes it could go right to the wire.

"There have been a lot of questions asked of us of late," he said.

"Especially after our back to back defeats by Coleraine and Linfield.

"People were asking if we have the heart to win this title again.

"We certainly know what we want as a club. We showed what we are about in midweek - it was a big result.

"We showed the character we have in this team, we showed the desire to get three points when perhaps the doubters were raising their heads."

Although the odds are now stacked in the Crues' favour to retain the title - they face Glenavon at Seaview in the final match of the campaign - O'Neill admits that tomorrow's game will be a "massive challenge".

He added: "We know what to expect against any team managed by David Jeffrey, we know we'll be in for a tough game.

"They'll be well organised, but we know what we've got to do.

"The motto around our club at the minute is one game at a time.

"The only thing we are looking for is a win against Ballymena.

"We got a massive three points against Coleraine. They were on a great unbeaten 17 game run going into the match.

"They are a good side, which we all saw at Seaview.

"It's now down to a battle of nerves. Any dropped points from either side will be crucial the way this league has panned out."

It's not surprising that O'Neill shrugs off any talk about this current group becoming the greatest ever Crusaders team, should they go on and retain the title.

"It would be a big achievement, but I'm not going to lie about it, I can't even let myself think along those lines," O'Neill added.

"In previous years I probably would have become a bit carried away because we had a bit to spare in terms of a cushion of points at the top of the table. But this is too close to call.

"We can't afford to take our eye off the ball. Our focus is all on Ballymena - nothing else.

"The Coleraine win was crucial - it was another game ticked off - it's now down to two. Our eyes are only on Ballymena, nothing else.

"Our final game (home to Glenavon) doesn't really come into the equation at this moment in time.

"It's a massive game at the Showgrounds.

"Ballymena had a good result against Cliftonville in midweek so they will be buoyed by that."

Belfast Telegraph


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