Belfast Telegraph

Clarke delighted to come on and make his presence felt

Instant impact: Ross Clarke hails scoring with first touch
Instant impact: Ross Clarke hails scoring with first touch

By Graham Luney

Ross Clarke was disappointed not to start Saturday's Irish Cup final but he couldn't have dreamed of making a bigger impact from the bench.

Just like former Crusaders hero Gavin Whyte when he made his Northern Ireland debut against Israel last year, the winger made sure his first touch blasted the ball into the back of the net.

That goal in the 53rd minute, two minutes after he had replaced David Cushley, made it 3-0 and Ballinamallard United's fading challenge became mission impossible.

Clarke accepts his first season at the Crues was always going to be a rollercoaster ride and it has certainly ended on a high.

"If someone had told me I'd play over 30 games for the Crues this season and win an Irish Cup I'd have bitten their hand off, I'm happy with that," said the former Linfield ace.

"There's always a massive squad here with competition for places. Stephen (Baxter) will strengthen the squad over the summer too, you expect that.

"I found a bit of room and thankfully Paul (Heatley) was able to pick me out. The goal helped me settle into the game and it gave the team some breathing space too.

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"Ballinamallard kept the pressure on and they did try to pass the ball. Our defence was strong and we took a few chances.

"I'm over the moon. I scored with my first touch but I'm not too sure there were many other good touches after it!

"This was my first Irish Cup final; I've missed out on a few because of injury and not being selected for squads.

"By no stretch was it a walk in the park. The early goal helped us but they did give us a game.

"Next season will be all about trying to win back the league title. It won't be long before we're back in training for Europe next month. I'm sure the squad will be strengthened.

"It's important we don't dwell on this for too long."

Philip Lowry, who scored the Crues' second goal, hailed Clarke's contribution this season.

"Ross has had difficult times with injuries but he's been a breath of fresh air for us and any team that wants to do well needs to have a big squad," he said.

Crues defender Sean Ward has now won the league title and Irish Cup with Glentoran, Linfield and Crusaders.

"That's my third Irish Cup which is very special," he said. "I've been very fortunate to play in such good teams.

"We probably weren't at our best; everyone outside Crusaders wanted Ballinamallard to win, which is understandable.

"They made it tough for us but we scored at key moments. Our journey to the final has been extremely tough but we have achieved what we set out to do."

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