Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders keen to land trophies and right the wrongs of 2017 failure, says Heatley

Red mist: Paul Heatley is sent off in last year’s County Antrim Shield final
Red mist: Paul Heatley is sent off in last year’s County Antrim Shield final

By Graham Luney

Paul Heatley says Crusaders are fired up to exorcise the ghost of last season's County Antrim Shield final horror show when they wrestle with Ballymena United in tonight's decider.

The Crues return to the scene of the crime where in February last year the winger was sent off at the Showgrounds as Linfield won their first piece of silverware under David Healy with a 3-1 success.

Heatley was shown a straight red card in the 30th minute after being accused of lashing out at defender Mark Stafford with a swinging arm.

There was minimal contact but referee Mervyn Smith sent off the former Carrick Rangers ace and the Blues, who had stormed into an early 2-0 lead, finished the job.

Fast forward nearly a year and the Shore Road side look a hungry animal after going on an incredible unbeaten run of 21 games in all competitions.

Skipper Colin Coates must serve an automatic one-game ban after being sent off in Saturday's 3-3 Premiership draw with Coleraine but manager Stephen Baxter has a ready made replacement in Sean Ward who can slot in alongside Howard Beverland.

Heatley knows the Sky Blues will be a formidable force on their own patch but memories of last season's painful decider will provide extra motivation this evening.

"That final didn't quite go according to plan for me or the team," admitted the 30-year-old.

"It was a controversial red card and people could see afterwards that it was the wrong decision. It didn't help our cause, we had got off to a poor start and lost the final but we have got ourselves back into the final of the competition at the same venue and have a fantastic chance to go on and win the trophy.

"You don't tend to look back too much in football but on the morning of the game the boys may think about what happened there and it will give them that extra bit of encouragement to get the job done.

"That shouldn't really be needed because when you are in the final of any competition the motivation is always there to win it.

"You've got to deliver a good performance in a final to win a trophy.

"That effort and determination will be there and we have been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks so we will go into it with confidence.

"We are still in five competitions this season and that will test the squad but we have a strong squad and the hunger is there, particularly after we didn't win anything last season.

"I think we have rectified the mistakes of last season by changing a few things in training and in matches and the results have been positive.

"It was very tough to take what happened at the end of last season but you've got to learn from it and emerge stronger.

"I think we have responded in the right manner and in all the competitions we have shown a real winning mentality.

"There's a strong motivation to win silverware this season."

The Crues haven't lifted the Shield since 2010 and they are going for their seventh triumph.

In 2012 the north Belfast side won the League Cup at the Showgrounds with a 1-0 win over Coleraine and also tasted Setanta Cup glory that year but the knockout success has dried up since then.

"Ballymena United are a formidable side and they are even tougher to beat on their own patch," added Heatley.

"They have fantastic players and a fantastic manager but we have good players too and hopefully it will be a great spectacle for the fans.

"The weather hasn't been great recently but hopefully the pitch is in good condition and we will see a good game.

"We are fighting on five fronts because we feel we have underperformed in cup competitions.

"There was a League Cup final loss to Cliftonville on penalties, last year's County Antrim Shield final was disappointing and for two years in a row there was Irish Cup semi-final losses but I feel we've got the right approach this season and can hopefully start bringing trophies back to Seaview.

"If we do well in all the competitions you are possibly talking about 60 matches over the course of the season and you will need to make several changes.

"The manager has options and the squad has been strengthened this season."

Belfast Telegraph


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