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I applaud league's new link-up with Sky: Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter

By Adrian Rutherford

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter believes the new Sky Sports TV deal is a major platform for Irish League football. The Crues are one of four clubs selected for coverage next month.

Their home game with Ballinamallard United will be broadcast live on March 20, while Linfield's match against Cliftonville will take place the previous Monday, March 13.

The games are part of a new six-year tie-up between Sky and the Northern Ireland Football League.

Baxter is hopeful the increased exposure will draw more fans through the gates.

"I am delighted to see live Irish League football back on our TV screens and well done to whoever got Sky on board," he said.

"It will bring a new energy to it all and hopefully get more people to games.

"Nothing beats live football - when you are out there with the passion of it all, it's wonderful.

"We don't get some of the dreary 0-0s you see in the Premier League where they pass sideways all day long. We get excitement, goal action, sendings off - all sorts of things.

"It's fantastic and it deserves the widest audience."

Sky previously broadcast five games a season between 2007 and 2014.

After a gap of almost three years, Irish League football returned to TV screens on Friday with the Cliftonville v Glentoran game which finished 1-1.

Ballymena's NI League Cup final win over Carrick Rangers at Seaview was also broadcast on Saturday night.

After next month's games, a further two are scheduled for April.

Baxter also called for a magazine-style programme, similar to RTE's Monday Night Soccer show, which covers the League of Ireland.

"I am absolutely thrilled that our game in this country is getting showcased," he added.

"But I would like to see - and I've said this a number of times - BBC or UTV taking on a magazine programme like RTE.

"It would be great to see highlights of all the games on television and giving the league the chance that it deserves.

"There is a lot of good stuff happening. Clubs are putting in a lot of work into their grounds, to improving facilities, and we need to see our local TV stations stepping up and giving us a little bit more."

While totally focused on hunting down a third consecutive Premiership title, Baxter is also hopeful of assembling a squad that can challenge for success next season and one player who is sure to be on the wishlist of many clubs is Portadown midfielder Robert Garrett.

Garrett has shown his class even in tough times for the Ports and the Crues boss may consider a move for the midfielder. Ballymena United and Glenavon may also express an interest in the former Linfield ace but Ports boss Niall Currie is keen to keep hold of his star man.

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