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County Antrim Shield: Sean O'Neill hoping to celebrate triumph and baby joy

By Graham Luney

Sean O'Neill is hoping for a very special double celebration tonight. The Crues keeper wants to get his hands on the County Antrim Shield at the Ballymena Showgrounds but his mind is also on family matters as his girlfriend Niamh is pregnant and the due date is today.

"I'll hopefully become a father for the first time," said O'Neill.

"A boy or a girl, I don't know. It will be a surprise but it's a massive week for me. I can't wait for the birth of my child and the final. Hopefully there will be some celebrations after Tuesday.

"My appearance is not in doubt, all being well I'll be there and we will win the trophy with a baby boy or girl to follow.

"There is always motivation to win a big trophy, particularly when you get to a final and the extra motivation is that it's against Linfield.

"Now that we are in the final we really want to win it.

"I've said it as well last season, we have let ourselves down in big cup games and to show we are one of the great Irish League sides we've got to win trophies."

Striker Jordan Owens, meanwhile, is hoping he can be the Shield hero once again.

The Crues won their last - and the club's sixth - Shield in January 2010 when the striker fired in an extra-time winner to seal a 3-2 success over Linfield at Windsor Park.

The Blues finished with 10 men after Michael Carvill - now with the Shore Road side - was sent off and while in those times it was considered a surprise, Stephen Baxter's league champions are a different animal in 2017.

"I was only coming through at the club at that stage," said Owens. "It was 3-2 and guys like Mark Dickson, Gareth McKeown and David McMaster played for us while Michael Gault, Billy Joe Burns and Michael (Carvill) were in the Linfield side. But now we are the biggest team in the country. Times have changed and we are a very different side.

"This is a big game and we are looking forward to it. PSNI gave us a tough game on Saturday but the manager changed the team around and now we have a big opportunity to win a trophy."

Although Crusaders are back-to-back league champions, both sides know they are capable of toppling each other.

"Linfield have had the edge on us in finals but when you get there you want to win them," added Owens. "Whatever team the gaffer selects we will go out there to enjoy it and hopefully win. There is still a long way to go in the league with both teams to play each other. There will be tough matches after that split.

"We've got the two top Belfast sides going for it in a final and it should be a cracking game.

"The boys are taking it game by game. There is that chance to win three trophies but all the games now are difficult.

"I've had a slight back injury, picked up against Glenavon, but it wasn't right to risk it on Saturday with the big final coming up."

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