Belfast Telegraph

Confident Crues aim to catch Caley cold

By Graham Luney

There's a quiet confidence in the Crusaders camp as they head to Scotland to wrestle with Inverness in the semi-finals of the IRN BRU Cup tomorrow night.

The match at Tulloch Caledonian Stadium has a 5.15pm kick off and supporters can follow it on the BBC Alba channel.

It will be the first time the Caley Jags have been in action since the end of January and the Crues will hope to catch the Scottish Championship side cold.

Inverness sit seventh in the league, after winning eight of their 23 matches so far.

An Irish League side has never progressed this far in the tournament which has been rebranded and now incorporates Welsh and Irish clubs.

Crusaders have overcome a young Motherwell side, Cove Rangers and holders Dundee United to keep their Cup dream alive and another stunning performance tomorrow would leave them on the brink of celebrating a very special triumph.

When travel costs are factored in, the north Belfast side don't expect to make significant profits from the tournament - it's more about profile and prestige and the chance to make history in a similar fashion to the club's Setanta Cup success in 2012.

The winners will face either Welsh side The New Saints or Dumbarton who play their last four clash this evening.

Crusaders have already lifted the County Antrim Shield this season and defender Sean Ward says the players are relishing the chance to progress to another major final.

"It's been a good competition for us and like every one we enter we want to go as far as we possibly can," said Ward.

"We are confident we can beat Inverness, there is no doubt about that, but we will need to perform well.

"We will give it our best. To reach the final will be special. Players want to play in finals, it's why we play the game and it's another massive opportunity to reach a big final.

"After the disappointment of the League Cup semi-final and Irish Cup it's a welcome distraction for us. We will face a full-time Inverness outfit who will be good but we will give it our best and see if it's good enough."

Stephen Baxter, who has just signed a five-deal deal and will take on a more professional role as manager, is enjoying this golden period for the club he calls 'a wee team from the Shore Road'.

"Football is a business and you need to pay the bills and then put your building blocks in place," said Baxter, who became Seaview supremo 13 years ago.

"We were around £1m in debt and now we are debt free and the ground improvements have been sensational. We are looking at how we go forward because we want to compete. We aren't miles ahead of anyone and you have to continue to build because we have suffered relegation after winning titles.

"We are working with very good people who deserve so much credit, including for the backing they give me. It will be a big change for me in my lifestyle with the full-time arrangement. The job is 24-7, non-stop and I'm grateful for the support of my wife and family.

"This Inverness game is a break away from the relentless pressure and tension of the league games. It's a big game of football but it will be a nice break for us.

"We will give a good account of ourselves. We won the Setanta Cup which was a huge lift to everyone and reaching an IRN BRU semi-final is a big feather in our cap as these are the best teams in our islands."

Belfast Telegraph

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