Belfast Telegraph

Leeman has sights on title glory for Crusaders

By Graham Luney

The irony will not be lost on Paul Leeman.

His first task for his new club Crusaders in the Carling Premiership is to beat his old club Glentoran at Seaview on Saturday.

The 33-year-old earned legendary status at the Oval where he won every piece of silverware he could get his hands on.

But at the Waterfront Hall yesterday, on the banks of the River Lagan, Leeman was keen to point out that his adventure in east Belfast is water under the bridge now.

He’s looking to the future now and by joining a strong and improving Crusaders side he’s made it clear that there are more trophies to win before his career comes to a close.

The question now occupying the minds of Crusaders fans |is can the Hatchetmen bridge |the gap and reel Linfield in?

Leeman expects the hype surrounding his appearance against Glentoran — if selected — but he’ll be happy when the talking stops and it’s back to the business of proving that the Crues mean business in the league this season.

“I have to say it’s all about looking forward for me, not looking back,” said Leeman.

“I’ve really enjoyed Crusaders so far and I want to do well for them because the manager (Stephen Baxter) has shown a lot of faith in me.

“I want to show the fans I can do a great job for them. Saturday is going to be a strange occasion but at the end of the day I’m a Crusaders player now and I want to do well for them. My approach to the game will not change.

“Throughout my career I have always been focused on what I have to do, regardless of the opposition.

“I’ll give 100 per cent effort and you can’t ask for any more than that.”

Crusaders were the only side who made Linfield really sweat in the title run-in last season before the Blues produced a burst of speed on the final straight.

But even though Glentoran’s squad has a youthful look to it, Leeman knows that the Big Two will always be difficult to catch.

“It’s well documented the Glens have had financial problems but every club is in the same boat,” added Leeman.

“They still have a very good squad with some big name players so I don’t think they can use that as an excuse. One to 11 they are as strong as anybody and they will be a very formidable side this season.

“It’s important we get off to a good start and it can’t be tougher than against Glentoran.

“It’s going to be an even tougher campaign for Crusaders because of the expectation levels arising from last season. The players |have to step up to the mark and perform week in, week out.”

Centre-backs David Magowan and Colin Coates will certainly need to maintain their form with Leeman displaying his class |in the double header against |Fulham.

“That’s got to be the case everywhere, that there’s not just competition at the back but all over the pitch,” he added.

“When everyone is fit and available there will be plenty of options and you need that over a long hard season. It does keep everybody on their toes and you need that to bring out the best in players.”

One of Leeman’s strengths is his versatility and his arrival at Seaview has given Baxter more cover in the midfield area as well as defence.

“For the last five or six years I have played 90 per cent of the games at centre-back so that’s my position but last season I was used in midfield when Scott Young needed me to do a job there,” he added. “Even when I wasn’t fully fit I wanted to help the team out. I have always been like that but personally speaking, I would rather play at the back.

“Hopefully I can add some experience to the Crusaders backline and help the club do even better than they did last season.”

Leeman is no stranger to the most coveted piece of silverware in the local game and he will enjoy a smile at the Big Two’s expense if the Crues can finish top of the tree in May.

Belfast Telegraph

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