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Great Dane saves the day for departing legend McDonald

 

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Title winner: Roy McDonald looks on as Stephen Baxter celebrates the goal that gave Crusaders the title

Title winner: Roy McDonald looks on as Stephen Baxter celebrates the goal that gave Crusaders the title

Stephen Hamilton/Inpho

Brian Jensen

Brian Jensen

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Title winner: Roy McDonald looks on as Stephen Baxter celebrates the goal that gave Crusaders the title

It was a tale of two keepers on Saturday as Crusaders lifted the Gibson Cup on a day of high drama at Warden Street.

David Cushley rightly earned the plaudits for his match and title-winning cameo but with the Crues level with Ballymena United, there was a breath-taking piece of world class goalkeeping with seven minutes to go.

When Cathair Friel, who had opened the scoring on the hour mark only to see his effort levelled by Philip Lowry, nodded the ball back across goal for striker partner Kevin Braniff, whose header seemed destined for the top corner until the giant hand of Brian Jensen clawed the ball to safety.

It was a simply stunning save and crucial with title rivals Coleraine drawing at Glenavon and it set the platform for Cushley to ease everyone's nerves with the winning goal four minutes from time.

The man they call 'The Beast' is probably the least beastly man you could ever meet but for a man who has played at the highest level of the game with Burnley, winning his first title at the ripe old age of 42 means the world to him.

"It was a tough game, we can miss some chances by the way, but we got the job done so I am happy," he said.

"I probably should have stayed for their goal and it hit off my shoulder but I redeemed myself a little (with that save from Friel) but at the end of the day it is not about individuals, it's all about Crusaders and we've got the title back to Crusaders.

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"I have loved it, absolutely loved it, everyone around the club has made me feel so welcome and it has been an absolute privilege to be around them."

Whether the great Dane returns next season remains to be seen but another goalkeeping legend with red and black blood coursing through his veins is calling it a day.

Roy McDonald has been a substantial part of the Seaview furniture for the best part of half a century but the goalkeeping coach is retiring.

And the team certainly put him through the mill on his last day in the dug-out as memories turned to the side's collapse at the same venue a year ago

"When they scored I just thought 'oh no, last year all over again' but it was a good substitution to get Cushley on because everything was just getting booted out of there," he said.

"I'll be honest I didn't enjoy one minute of it. I'm enjoying it now but I didn't enjoy it because we were too tense.

"You're listening what's happening in Lurgan as well and Linfield were getting beaten 2-0 and you think Glenavon are going to take their foot off the pedal here and maybe Coleraine get a goal, but they didn't and that's the main thing.

"I think it's easier playing because sitting on the bench you're a basket-case, you can't do anything about it. The amount of chances that were going begging at then at 1-0 Brian Jensen pulls off a wonder save.

"I don't know what would have happened had that gone in, that's a fact."

And now it is all over, but what a legacy McDonald leaves.

"That's my last game. I've retired from the coaching side of things and we'll see what develops on the other side. I need a knee replacement and I think it was only fair to finish now," he added

"The league is very competitive. It's a different ball game now, the players are fitter, they're more skilful and they are athletes. They look after themselves, they've got the right attitude, they haven't got this drinking mentality.

"And I think the league split has been a revelation, it's kept everybody on their toes.

"I'm 50 years in the Irish League and 46 with Crusaders. I have an Irish Cup winner's medal with Distillery in 1970-71 and then we played Barcelona in the Cup Winners' Cup - it's a long time.

"I've gone from Barcelona to Ballymena and Liverpool in between."

But wherever he has been, you can be sure that he will remain a familiar figure around a certain part of north Belfast.


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