Crusaders set standard now, says Aaron Callaghan relishing Seaview return
Carrick Rangers manager Aaron Callaghan believes his old team Crusaders have become the standard bearers in Irish League football.
Callaghan was speaking ahead of what promises to be an emotional return to Seaview tomorrow to take on a club he played for, captained and managed.
The Dubliner was part of Roy Walker's Crusaders squad that won two titles in the mid to late 90s and was a popular figure with the supporters. No doubt he will receive a fantastic reception at the Shore Road ground.
Callaghan has many happy memories from his time with the north Belfast outfit and still has good friends there, including former team-mate and current boss Stephen Baxter, who has designs on guiding the Crues to a third championship success in a row.
"It is a club that is very close to my heart," said Callaghan.
"I went back three or four years ago when I was managing Bohemians in the Setanta Cup and got a great reception.
"I'm looking forward to seeing old friends, including Stephen, but it will be all business during the 90 minutes with our aim to get a result.
"In my opinion Crusaders have become the team to beat in the Irish League. When I started out in the Irish League in the mid 90s, Linfield were the top side, but in recent years, first it was Cliftonville and now Crusaders have taken that mantle.
"I know Crusaders went through their tough times but they restructured, got a good business plan in place and Stephen has done a magnificent job in leading the club to numerous trophies in recent years."
Recalling his own successful spell at Seaview, Callaghan said: "There was a uniqueness and togetherness in the group. We had players from the south and north who blended well and we went on a great journey.
"I remember when I was playing against Linfield in one of my early games I was up against Garry Haylock, who was a big name, and he said to me that I had joined a decent club but they wouldn't win anything. Thankfully that wasn't the case.
"As well as having that togetherness we had some superb individuals like Glenn Dunlop, Glenn Hunter and Stephen Baxter.
"It was a fantastic family orientated club. The supporters mixed in with the players and we would have drinks with each other after games and got to know the fans personally."
Carrick remain second bottom in the Danske Bank Premiership, but last week in Callaghan's first official game as boss they stopped the rot in the league, drawing 0-0 against Glenavon.
"It was a good result for us. When you have lost a lot of games in the league and conceded the amount of goals we had early in the campaign, it was important to get something out of the game and also a clean sheet was a big boost," said Callaghan.
"What I'm doing now is trying to get the players believing in the structure and system that we are aiming to play.
"They have had a lot of bad weeks going home without a result and when that happens heads start to drop, so I said to them that we were going to get people smiling again at the club.
"I know how tough it will be at Crusaders, but we will go there with a positive mindset and give it a go."