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Walker says class of 2015 are huge inspiration for clubs with ambition

By Graham Luney

Published 18/04/2015

Baxter is celebrating his first Gibson Cup win as boss this season
Baxter is celebrating his first Gibson Cup win as boss this season
Champion feeling: Roy Walker and Stephen Baxter celebrate the Crues’ title win in 1995

Crusaders legend Roy Walker says the club's fifth title sends a powerful message to the rest of the Irish League.

Walker, who guided the Shore Road side to championship success in 1995 and 1997, feels Stephen Baxter's squad now offer inspiration to any club thirsty for silverware.

The Crues were on their knees when they were relegated for the first time in their history in 2005 but Baxter guided them out of the Intermediate League at the first attempt and 10 years on they are the best team in the land.

Walker will be in New York on a family trip next weekend when Colin Coates lifts the Gibson Cup but he will be able to imagine the scenes on the Shore Road after witnessing Sid Burrows perform the same honour in '95 and '97.

"I really am delighted Crusaders have got across the line," said Walkerwho once dubbed his own title winning heroes as 'the team with no boots'.

"I have a lot of friends there like Stephen (Baxter), the chairman Stephen Bell and Roy (McDonald) and everyone including the supporters, players and backroom staff show me so much respect when I visit and that respect is mutual.

"I think Crusaders have shown us what you can achieve when you have a long-term plan and vision.

"Things have been tweaked here and there as the club has progressed but there was no panic and they are now a model or template for other clubs who want to build slowly towards success.

"In the knockout competitions you can have a bit of luck and the bounce of the ball can fall your way but the best team wins the league and that's the benchmark every club wants to set.

"A team that finishes top of the league deserves to be champions.

"Over 38 matches Crusaders are where they deserve to be and no-one can say anything different.

"Some people have been a bit disingenuous and talked about certain styles of football but that's a lot of nonsense.

"Football is about keeping the ball out at one end and scoring goals at the other and they have done that."

In recent seasons Crusaders have threatened to sustain a title challenge only for the bubble to burst but under the guidance of Baxter - who was part of Walker's two title triumphs - they were steered home first, ending Cliftonville's hopes of making it three in a row.

Nine points clear of Linfield with three games remaining and boasting a vastly superior goal difference of plus 27, their journey is complete but they can make the title win official with a point at home to Glentoran this afternoon.

Walker added: "Crusaders used to fall away in the title race but they have moved beyond that and their winning run this year has been remarkable.

"Ever since they lost to Portadown in December they have really went for it and the statistics are fantastic.

"It's a bit similar to our first title win in 1995 when we won the league with five games left.

"We were 16 points ahead and Stephen (Baxter) scored a big goal at the Ballymena Showgrounds on April 1 to seal it. When I signed Stephen we talked about the importance of him scoring 20 goals for us and if he did we would win the league.

"That day he scored his 20th goal and ran over to me and said, 'That one's for you, goal number 20 and we are champions'. We had a big embrace but I didn't realise the significance of his 20th goal until it hit me later.

"We should have won the title more times in the 1990s during a fantastic five-year purple patch when we had great squads including about five Dublin lads and of course we lost one on goal difference.

"But winning it twice was great and we were able to keep the squad together and add quality to it.

"The wonderful thing about Crusaders is that Stephen was able to keep his squad together after they were relegated in 2005.

"There was still a desire and hunger about them and the young lads like Colin Coates and Chris Morrow, who were given a chance by then manager Alan Dornan, blossomed into top Irish League players.

"They have also remained loyal to the Crusaders cause and been rewarded.

"Relegation was a bitter pill to swallow for them but it helped make them the champions they are today."

Today's Premiership fixtures (3pm): Ballymena Utd v Ballinamallard Utd, Cliftonville v Linfield, Coleraine v Warrenpoint Town, Crusaders v Glentoran, Dungannon Swifts v Institute, Glenavon v Portadown.

Belfast Telegraph

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