Belfast Telegraph

Leeman out to make up for red card woe which cost him final

By Graham Luney

Paul Leeman has unfinished business with the Setanta Sports Cup.

The centre-back and Michael Halliday should be the only players in the Crusaders squad with the experience of playing in the all-Ireland final but that opportunity was cruelly taken away from Leeman when he was harshly sent off in the 2008 semi-final.

The then Glentoran skipper was shown a red card when he tangled with Drogheda United’s Declan O'Brien and conceded a penalty.

It was a harsh call but the Glens, who finished with nine men after Jason Hill was also sent off late on, survived to conquer the holders 1-0 and take on Cork City in the decider.

Alan McDonald’s side lost the final 2-1, Leeman a frustrated spectator.

Against Derry City at his old stomping ground — the Oval — on Saturday, Leeman is determined to have the last laugh.

“I should be able to talk about playing in a Setanta Cup final but I never made it after being sent off,” said the 34-year-old who has pocketed every medal in the domestic game.

“As Glentoran skipper it did hurt me a lot to miss the final.

“It was very disappointing and frustrating so from a personal point of view this final means a lot to me as well as Crusaders.

“It would give me a lot of personal satisfaction to get a Setanta Cup winner’s medal but for that to happen the team will need to perform to their maximum,” he said.

“We should have done better in the Irish Cup final — we didn’t take our chances — but instead of dwelling on that disappointment all summer, at least we have the opportunity to think about another trophy.

“It would be a massive achievement for a club like Crusaders to win the Setanta Cup and of course it’s the only trophy I haven’t won.

“The boys will have to show the hunger needed to get across the line in these big games. We’re going to have to be on top of our game.”

Leeman, a former team-mate of City boss Declan Devine, was close to quitting football last summer when then Glentoran boss Scott Young told him he was being released.

However, the Umbro representative’s decision to join the Crues has been vindicated by an IRN-BRU Cup winner’s medal, Irish Cup final appearance — that 4-1 defeat to Linfield on Saturday — and now a say in the Setanta Cup decider.

“It’s a dream final in many ways for the players,” added Leeman. “Derry City v Crusaders at the Oval — it has generated a lot of interest and it’s perhaps what the competition needed after its future was uncertain with difficulties surrounding scheduling.

“We know Rory Patterson very well and there’s no question City will be hard to beat.

“They’re a top side and they’ll be well organised but after beating Sligo Rovers we are entitled to believe we have a chance.”

Crusaders are the third Irish League side to progress to the all-Ireland final after Linfield (twice) and Glentoran (once).

The Blues won the inaugural tournament in 2005 but since then the southern sides have earned the bragging rights.

At least the trophy is certain to travel north this year but the Hatchetmen want the Irish League flag to be flying proudly on Saturday evening.

“I think the big difference has been the attitude to training in the two leagues,” added Leeman.

“The southern teams have put in that extra night’s training which should make them fitter and sharper,” he said.

“But I think we are making progress in that area and the two performances against Sligo Rovers proved that we can raise our game and match the top sides,” the seasoned Leeman said.

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