Crusaders set for Hyland fling
It could have been a case of the French resistance for Crusaders in today’s IRN-BRU League Cup final — but now it appears they will turn to southern comfort.
Crues boss Stephen Baxter would have been hoping for a less stressful preparation for the Sky televised clash with Cliftonville (Windsor Park, 5.30pm).
Sean O’Neill’s dislocated shoulder sparked a worldwide hunt for new number ones and Baxter’s search unearthed Craig Hyland from Naas and Frenchman Yohann Lacroix.
Lacroix jumped on a plane in Singapore to showcase his talent on the Shore Road, though a lengthy registration process delayed his bow.
Rookie keeper Jack McCrea donned the gloves against Ballymena United in the Premiership but Baxter was always going to turn to his new experienced recruits.
Hyland was catapulted into the firing line against Linfield in the Irish Cup victory on Tuesday night and, possession being nine tenths of the law, the former Shamrock Rovers and Longford Town stopper is now firm favourite to be the first name on the Crues team-sheet against the Reds.
The Blues felt Hyland (right) brought down Michael Carvill but referee Colin Burns instead booked the winger for diving in the 2-1 win.
What a week it’s been for the 22-year-old — and what a first two games it could be in his Crusaders adventure.
“It was straight into the fire for me,” admitted Hyland after the Linfield battle.
“I had never really experienced anything like that before. It was certainly hostile.
“It was a lot tougher than it is down south in terms of a physical test. I was bundled over a few times!
“There was banter in the second half and everything that could have been said to me was! But I really enjoyed the game and thought the standard was really high. I now realise how technically good the players are here.”
Baxter sought the advice of former Shamrock Rovers chief Michael O’Neill and Keith Gillespie before pursuing his interest in Hyland.
“I trained with Alan Mannus for eight months and learned a lot from him, he’s a great keeper and Michael O’Neill too, he’s a great professional,” added Hyland.
“Michael taught me everything including how the game is run professionally. I picked up a lot of things from him.
“Although not playing, I got to travel with the squad for Europa League matches including the Tottenham game. Michael got the Northern Ireland job, I took the offer from Longford and played every minute of last year.”
Relishing his Seaview adventure, Hyland added: “This is too big an opportunity to turn down. Yohann has more experience than me and he’s been around the world so I’m enjoying training with him. Any advice he can give me I will definitely take on board.
“There’s a big final coming up and if I play it will be the biggest moment in my career. Last year we were in the promotion play-off finals with Longford but I haven’t played in a big cup final.
“It’s a big stadium, big crowd against Cliftonville who are league leaders and a top side. I still think Crusaders can catch them in the league though.
“We had a similar lead at Longford last season but ended up finishing third.”
Lacroix (27) began his career at Auxerre and played for Lille as well as Championnat National side L'Entente SSG.
After a spell in Greece, he headed to Singapore and signed for Etoile FC, the first French and European team to compete in Singapore’s S. League. In June 2011 he joined top Singapore club Tampines Rovers.
“I’m happy to be here and looking forward to playing,” said Lacroix. “In Singapore I won a league championship and cup for a big team so it’s nice to join a big Irish team too.
“I’ve never been to Belfast before but I’m enjoying it and every player wants to have big targets.
“I played in Lille for five seasons and it was the same weather conditions!
“My family live in Geneva so I am closer to them now. I was looking for a club in Europe and now it’s about training hard and showing what I can do.”