Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders ace Paul Heatley is keen to cash in on his Euro bonus

By Graham Luney

Paul Heatley says he's ready to bail out Crusaders after being set free by the bank.

The Crues dangerman was resigned to missing out on tonight's Champions League second qualifying round showdown with KF Skenderbeu (7.00pm) due to work commitments with Ulster Bank.

But contact between the Shore Road club and bank chiefs produced a happy ending when Heatley was informed he could, after all, join the travelling party to Albania yesterday.

The loss of last season's Player of the Year would have been a huge blow to the NIFL Premiership champions who know they face a formidable challenge at the Skenderbeu Stadium.

Confidence, however, is sky high in the Crusaders dressing room after the club triumphed in Europe's top club competition for the first time after an away-goal success against Estonian side Levadia Tallinn.

Michael Carvill's goal, set up by a stunning pass from Heatley, proved decisive and boss Stephen Baxter and his men know another away goal tonight will give them a fighting chance of more European joy at Seaview in a week's time.

Heatley is confident the Crues can weave more magic on the continent and he's relieved to be given the green light to reach for the passport again.

"I would have been gutted to miss the game as it's the second qualifying round of the Champions League and how many Irish League players get to experience something like that?

"We have already made history by winning a tie in this competition and there's an opportunity to keep doing something special.

"The squad is good enough and experienced enough to get a result out there without me but you want to be involved and this is the big stage for all of us. I'm thrilled to be going," he said ahead of the charter flight departure.

The draw for the third qualifying round is made on Friday when they could draw bigger guns such as Celtic, assuming the Glasgow giants come through their tie against Iceland's Stjarnan, but Crusaders can't afford to take their eyes off Skenderbeu.

The defence was outstanding in Estonia and, still without skipper Colin Coates, they will need to rise to the challenge again.

But the visitors will carry a very real attacking threat and Heatley, who netted 29 goals last season, knows his side have the firepower to shatter big-name reputations.

"Anyone who watched both the legs against Levadia Tallinn will see we deserved to go through and the boys can be proud of what was a massive physical effort against a good side," added Heatley.

"The team is now mentally and physically stronger and our energy levels are improving all the time. Fingers crossed we'll have something to fight for in the return leg at Seaview."

Richard Clarke, a 79th-minute replacement for Declan Caddell in the 1-1 draw in Tallinn, is blown away by the fierce competition for places.

"If you look around the squad, every player's position is under threat and that's not even when you consider the boys who are coming back from injury - Chris Morrow, Emmet Friars, Barry Molloy and Timmy Adamson," said former Glentoran favourite Clarke.

"The manager has massive strength in depth and every player is lifting their game and they want to be involved and win more silverware after this incredible European experience.

"Last season we relied heavily on Paul Heatley and Gavin Whyte to deliver but that's not the case any more. The manager has many more options. It bodes well for the season ahead."

Last season's Young Player of the Year Gavin Whyte could be back from injury to get his season off to a bang in Albania.

Belfast Telegraph


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