Euro tests have heightened Crues' title hunger: Ward
Sean Ward has put Crusaders' perfect start to their league title challenge down to being able to move on quickly from the highs of their European battles with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The Crues, along with Larne, are one of only two teams to have won both of their first two Danske Bank Premiership outings, and have shown why many have then down to be one of the main contenders for the title.
Coming hot on the heels of the glamour games against Wolves, Crusaders' early domestic opponents may have thought they could catch Stephen Baxter's men cold with their heads still in the clouds, but that was never going to happen to Ward.
Instead, the Seaview star insists that the focus immediately turned to the battle for the Premiership title, with the 35-year-old's sights now set on getting his hands on another Irish League winner's medal.
Ward emulated his former Glentoran team mate Chris Morgan when the Crues won the league in 2018, meaning he has lifted the Gibson Cup with the Glens, Linfield and Crusaders and, after winning it twice at The Oval, he now wants to do the same on the Shore Road.
"We enjoyed the occasion against Wolves, both at Molineux and Seaview, but as soon as we'd taken a couple of days to digest it, all the entire focus switched to the league campaign because we want the Gibson Cup back," said Ward, ahead of tomorrow's north-Belfast derby clash with Cliftonville.
"We want to win the Irish Cup again too. We're greedy. Every player at the top clubs starts the season and they want it all. We have fared extremely well and we certainly didn't embarrass ourselves against a team that performed so well in the Premier League last season.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
"Now it's about taking this form into the league campaign and showing the quality that we have and hopefully come the end of April, early May we have silverware in our hands.
"I'm hoping for another Irish League title, I'm hoping for another Irish Cup, a League Cup and a County Antrim Shield too. That's why you play the game. That's why players want to come to clubs like Crusaders because we're in a position where we are going for silverware.
"We want those European nights again next year and the only way you do that is by being successful at home. It's now about taking our European form into the league and Linfield will be hoping to do the same.
"They are always great learning experiences, but ultimately our European journey is over now. We've really enjoyed it. We'd grown men coming into the dressing room saying it was the greatest night of their lives, but it's done. We've enjoyed it and now it's about Saturday."
With full-time football being phased in over the last 12 months, the expectation level will now increase and Ward is embracing that rather than fearing it.
"We said that going full-time, or three-quarter full-time, last year was going to come with a huge transition. Now the club will be hoping to see the fruition of that transition. Players are stronger and fitter and I think we showed that against Wolves.
"Now every focus and drive is about the league campaign.
"Last year we lost too many games and that is the harsh reality. We lost games that we should have won and you can't sustain a title challenge when you lose the number of games that we did.
"We know that we are always capable of scoring goals. We have phenomenal attacking talent in our team, it's just about closing up shop and making sure we don't lose as many games."