Belfast Telegraph

Crues well equipped to finish campaign with a bang, says McClean

By Graham Luney

Craig McClean has a strong belief the Seaview trophy cabinet will be unlocked again this season.

Crusaders remain on course for a league and cup double which would wipe away the pain of two seasons without any silverware.

Currently sitting pretty at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership, Stephen Baxter's side are hoping to finish the season with a bang. If a league and cup double is secured by this talented crop of Hatchetmen it will be the first time in the club's history a Crusaders team has achieved the feat.

The Crues' Irish Cup assault begins with a fifth round battle against Newington YC this afternoon as the landlords grapple with the tenants.

Both clubs may have healthy relations away from the artificial surface but the Belfast Telegraph Championship 2 side fancy repeating the heroics of their famous win over Glentoran in 2012.

The Crusaders dressing room may be packed full of experienced campaigners who have scooped up a host of medals but left-back McClean is still waiting for his first trophy triumph.

That's why the Monkstown man is desperate to taste Irish Cup glory as well as snatch a first league winner's medal.

"Morale and confidence is high after five great results," said McClean. " I know we have fallen away in recent seasons after being in promising positions but I think the new boys who have come in this month (Stephen O'Flynn and Barry Molloy) prove we mean business.

"In previous January transfer windows we haven't really strengthened rather than bringing in (keeper) Johann Lacroix when Sean O'Neill got injured but the boys we have brought in are quality players who can hopefully make a big impact.

"We've lost a few finals and they are hard to stomach but football gives you another chance to win something again. There's been Irish Cup semi-final disappointment against Cliftonville and Glenavon and unlike a few of the boys here I can't reflect on the 2009 Irish Cup Final win over Cliftonville so it would be nice to experience what everyone says is the biggest day in our football calendar.

"The fans love it and the players are no different. First up is Newington and we will give them the respect they deserve.

"In the league the boys have bagged great results but the hard work is ahead of us. Getting to the top of the league is one thing but it's tougher to stay there.

"In terms of a potential double, there's a few clubs with that target but we do have momentum and we need to keep that going."

McClean missed a penalty in the shoot-out against Cliftonville in last season's League Cup decider at Solitude as the Reds retained the trophy.

"That seems a long time ago now," laughs the 29-year-old. "It's long gone. If we get another penalty in a similar circumstance hopefully I'll step up and hit the target. Losing the last two League Cup finals to Cliftonville wasn't nice but it just makes you more determined to fight back and get a winner's medal."

Crusaders have signed Graeme McKibbin from Ards, with Stephen Cockcroft going in the opposite direction. Both are loan deals.

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