Belfast Telegraph

It's high stakes for both clubs but we need a trophy to reach next level: Kane

Trophy hunter: Tony Kane hopes Ballymena can earn silverware
Trophy hunter: Tony Kane hopes Ballymena can earn silverware

By Graham Luney

Tony Kane says the Tennent's Irish Cup showdown between his Ballymena United side and Crusaders this afternoon feels like the biggest game of the season for both clubs.

The heavyweight showdown at Seaview is the tie of the round, with a place in the semi-finals a tasty reward for the winners.

United lost out on League Cup glory when Linfield triumphed 1-0 in the decider at Windsor Park and the Blues also boast a commanding nine points lead over the Sky Blues in the title race.

David Jeffrey's side may have a game in hand but David Healy's men appear to be unstoppable as they chase the club's 53rd league championship.

The Blues, however, were knocked out of the Irish Cup by the Crues who haven't lifted the prize since 2009.

The Braidmen haven't got their hands on the premier knockout trophy in Northern Ireland since 1989 and Kane has unfinished business with the competition after his ending off when United lost the 2014 final to Glenavon.

It's second v third in the Premiership reunited in the Cup and the men from Warden Street will show no fear after conquering the Crues in the semi-finals of the League Cup at Seaview.

Another fiercely contested scrap is on the cards and Kane admits the stakes are high for both sides.

"It's the biggest game of the season for both clubs," said Kane. "Top teams like Linfield and Crusaders now respect Ballymena United. They see how we play and the qualities we have.

"But performances are one thing, you want to be sitting at the end of the season reflecting on your achievements and hopefully that will include an Irish Cup win.

"It's important to open the trophy cabinet. There was a big overhaul of players in the summer but the boys have clicked and you don't want it to turn into a one-season wonder story. We want to keep progressing.

"Losing the League Cup final was a big disappointment and both these clubs haven't won the Irish Cup in a while. For me personally, I've played in one Irish Cup final and been sent off in it, so I want to rectify that.

"I can't see any team running away with it on Saturday, it will be a tight encounter and hopefully we can come out on top."

United shook off some of the disappointment from back to back defeats to Linfield by edging out Cliftonville 2-1 at the Showgrounds on Tuesday.

Kane accepts it was important to change the mood after a tough period for the club.

"It was a big win and what we needed after the two Linfield defeats," added the 31-year-old. "Sometimes you don't get what you deserve in football.

"It was important to get back on track and get points on the board.

"Losing two weekends in a row was hard to take but we played some good football during what has been a very demanding time for the squad.

"We have nine games left and all you can do is win those games and see if another team drops points. It's Linfield's title to lose, they are nine points clear and their clean sheet record is very impressive.

"This weekend is a break from the league and this test against Crusaders will be massive. But we have won there in the semi-final of the League Cup when Leroy Millar scored.

"The games have been tight and it will be the same again. It's a cracking tie on paper, second against third and they are the reigning league champions.

"It's two of the top three teams in the league clashing so you can't really look elsewhere. It's the tie of the round and game that demands your full focus."

Crusaders vs Ballymena Utd

Tennent's Irish Cup quarter-final:

Seaview, Today, 3.00pm

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