Belfast Telegraph

Are Crusaders nervous ahead of decider? Don't make laugh, says O'Neill

 

By Steven Beacom

Crusaders stalwart Sean O'Neill has revealed how laughter has eased tension in the Seaview ranks ahead of what is judgement day in the Danske Bank Premiership.

The Crues have the same number of points as Coleraine at the top of the table, but a vastly superior goal difference means if Stephen Baxter's side win at Ballymena this afternoon, they will be champions.

That may be hard on Coleraine, who are away to Glenavon, though if Crusaders get over the line they will deserve it.

The Bannsiders have rightly received much praise all season, but it takes two teams to make a great title race and the Crues have been magnificent.

Already winners of the County Antrim Shield, they are now one big performance away from winning a third league title in four seasons.

It would prove, without question, they are the dominant force in Irish League football.

Goalkeeper O'Neill has played a huge part in the rise of the north Belfast outfit and, while you may think there would be nerves approaching such an important day, he believes mentally the Crues are in a happy place.

"There is a good buzz about our camp," he said.

"We have a great changing room and we have tried to have a laugh about things and bring some joy to the situation over the last few weeks. That has really helped everyone.

"All the boys are excited. All of our team want to play in games like this. It is like a Cup final for us. We know if we win the game we will be champions. It is as simple as that and that is how we are looking at it.

"If someone had told us at the start of the season you would have to win at Ballymena to win the title we would have snapped your hands off for that."

With former Burnley star Brian Jensen the number one for most of the season, O'Neill has not played as many games as he would have liked, but he remains a hugely positive force in the Crusaders dressing room.

He adds: "We know it will be tough because Ballymena are a good side and David Jeffrey will have them fighting for every ball, but we are content to be in the position we are in, knowing it is down to us.

"We have scored over 100 goals in the league this season which is some achievement.

"This has been a big squad effort. Coleraine have been on a great run and Oran Kearney has done a fantastic job but I think our manager Stephen Baxter has been brilliant for us as well.

"He is the leader of the ship. There was a lot of talk at the start of the season about how Stephen would keep all our big players happy and he has done a great job with that.

"Now we are one game away from the title and we are confident we can do what is required."

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