Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders hungry to create more history and clinch special title hat-trick, maintains Baxter

By Graham Luney

The biggest question marks during the countdown to tomorrow's kick-off centred on the much-publicised Coleraine-Portadown fiasco, but when the Danske Bank Premiership season commences, the most pertinent talking point will be if Crusaders can make more history by winning three titles in a row.

Do the Crues have the mental strength and quality to hold onto the glittering prize or will a resurgent Linfield, Glenavon or Cliftonville be crowned the best team in the country?

Stephen Baxter and his men have endured cheap shots regarding the style of play on the Shore Road but the statistics speak for themselves and the fans are loving the winning football they are watching.

The manager has raised this club from the ashes of relegation and he deserves more respect, particularly for his business in the transfer market which has once again been impressive this year.

Squads win championships and Crusaders have real strength in depth. Closer examination of the players also suggests they have the hunger and desire to keep tasting title glory.

Ahead of their opening clash at home to Ballymena United tomorrow, Baxter admits his squad is in "uncharted waters" but he knows they are relishing the challenge.

"It probably is one of the biggest challenges we could face," said the Crues boss.

"It's uncharted waters and we don't really know the answer to that question - is this the club's toughest ever challenge?

"All we know is that we prepare for every single game and season by trying to improve ourselves as athletes and how we prepare and perform. We've tried to bring good players in that will encourage and strengthen the team.

"We've tried to instil a new fresh hunger into the side and the boys are buzzing for it. You then need a lot of things to go your way as the season progresses.

"All the other teams have strengthened and that's what happens because when you haven't won a title in a while you become more hungry for it.

"That's what makes the challenge of winning the title three years in a row more difficult but we are up for it, we are very excited about it and we will give it our best shot."

Irish League fans are still recovering from the shock of big name arrivals to the league and Baxter is also keen to welcome Nacho Novo, Sammy Clingan, Roy Carroll and Paddy McCourt to the party.

"It's fantastic and I'm actually thrilled we have the calibre of players we have - top players," he added.

"I watched Paddy McCourt on Saturday and he gave an exhibition of football for an hour. His passing, movement, quality of pass and vision were all brilliant to watch and that's exciting for our league.

"It's good that these players would even consider playing in our league, including others from the League of Ireland, who are maybe lesser known but every bit as good. Stadiums are getting better, standards are improving and the game is at its height at the moment."

Belfast Telegraph


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