Irish Cup Final: Crusaders gem can sparkle on the big day
Diamonds are forever as James Bond might have once pondered, but not in the case of Crusaders.
Boss Stephen Baxter has uncovered his own precious gem in 20-year-old winger Stuart Dallas, but he’s a little rough around the edges and more polishing is required.
The youngster from Cookstown is still learning his craft, but those in the know suggest the emerging talent can carve out a professional career across the water.
Today represents another important step in his rapid development and one man who has admired the sparkling performer at close quarters is Michael Halliday.
Both men are aiming to shoot down Linfield in today’s Irish Cup final, but some fans will even wonder if it will be Dallas’ last game for the Hatchetmen with a host of English clubs admiring him from a distance.
Halliday has no idea how Dallas’ career will unravel, but he has no doubt the boy who has taken the Carling Premiership by storm has an exciting future ahead of him.
“Wee Stuart has been fantastic this year,” sad Halliday who has scored in three of the four Irish Cup finals he has played in.
“He has been phenomenal and if I was picking my Player of the Year it would be him, without a doubt. He has been unbelievable. When you consider where he came from (Coagh United) to where he is now it’s light years from where he thought he would be. Fingers crossed he has a great Irish Cup final because it’s a big stage and people will be watching him. He can certainly play at a higher level than the Irish league so if he has a good game in the final interest in him will grow further.
“From my point of view, hopefully it isn’t his last game for the club as he has been tremendous for us. He has probably set up most of my goals this year so I’ll certainly miss him.
“He’s got a great future, whether that is as a very good Irish League player or in England where he probably should be playing I don’t know. I’m sure teams are having a good look at him, but he’s enjoying his football here.
“Whether he wants to move at this stage or he wants to benefit from another year in the Irish League which has been good for his development I don’t honestly know.
“He has certainly got everything it takes to make it over in England.”
Crusaders are following developments in east Belfast closely as they seek a new home for the Shore Road club.
Glentoran chairman Terence Brannigan has revealed ambitious plans to secure a £10 million funding package to build a new stadium. The Glens are eyeing a new arena at the Blanchflower Stadium site. Four training pitches are also planned.
However, the Crues are anxious to realise their own shared stadium dream — incorporating an International training suite — and fear any ‘sweetheart deal’ with the Glens. Mark Langhammer, Director, Stadium Development at Crusaders, said: “Facilities across the Irish League need improvement and all clubs are entitled to scrap for scarce resources.
“The Giants Park, North Foreshore bid from Crusaders and Newington is a very strong one and we are confident that our bid stacks up in sporting, recreational, business and employment terms.
“Provisionally, the site includes the sort of international training suite that the IFA’s Facilities Plan seeks to establish. And, in two meetings at Ministerial level, we believe — with public money at stake — that commitments have been made to allow for an open tender or bid process.
“No doubt there will be a bid from East Belfast, and why not? But if a ‘sweetheart deal’ is hatched which neglects an open, honest process, we will have no hesitation in going to law. The Minister knows that is our position, as do the Irish FA.
“Whatever else about upgrading the international stadium at Windsor, the decision has been made.
“However, it is hardly a “fresh start for football” as originally promised. All the more reason why a shared space — an accessible cross community site — is chosen for the International training suite. We believe Belfast’s North Foreshore is that site.”