Baxter won't let sentiment get in way of winning
Stephen Baxter plans to enjoy renewing acquaintances with schoolboy pal Alan Kernaghan this afternoon, but will save the hospitality until after what he hopes is an opening defeat for the new Glentoran boss.
As young prospects Middlesbrough were keen on the pair, but while Kernaghan signed for the club and went on to play over 200 league games during eight years in the north-east, Baxter stayed at home and ultimately forged a successful Irish League career.
Baxter has taken that success into management and his Crusaders team now sit three points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership as they try to defend their Irish League title.
And after beating Linfield last weekend Baxter is determined to make it a Big Two double for his team, even if it means upsetting an old mate.
"Alan Kernaghan and I were both 14 years old and travelling over to Middlesbrough during school holidays," said Baxter.
"When the time came for the club to make decisions on us I was offered a three-month professional contract, which I turned down and then signed for Glentoran at 16, while Alan stayed and went on to have a great career.
"I have read a lot about him and it seems he has read up on us and what we've been doing.
"It will be nice to touch base with him again after such a long time and to reminisce, but there is also the serious business of trying to get three points on board and that's the important thing.
"Our supporters wouldn't expect me to say anything else than that I want Alan Kernaghan's first game to end in defeat."
Baxter is also continuing to roll out his long-term plans for the club, with left-back Craig McClean and midfield trio Richard Clarke, Declan Caddell and Matthew Snoddy all signing new contracts which will run to the summer of 2019.
"These four boys are key players for us and they have been fully rewarded for their contributions," said Baxter.