Belfast Telegraph

Hale keen to prove he's man for the big occasion

On mission: Rory Hale is relishing his first chance to shoot down Linfield
On mission: Rory Hale is relishing his first chance to shoot down Linfield

By Graham Luney

Crusaders new boy Rory Hale says he's relishing his first real heavyweight showdown with the Danske Bank Premiership champions.

Rory and his brother Ronan have joined the Shore Road club this month and both could feature in today's home showdown with title rivals Linfield.

In the first game of a fascinating trilogy, the Belfast rivals will also meet in the Irish Cup sixth round on February 2 and in the County Antrim Shield final on February 5.

But the No.1 target for both clubs is the Premiership title and David Healy's men are in the driving seat, three points ahead of Ballymena United and the Crues with the north Belfast side having played a game more.

Although there is still a long way to go in the race for the Gibson Cup, the match has a 'must not lose' feeling to it if you're in the Crusaders corner.

These big occasions are why the Hale brothers opted to follow in the footsteps of their grandfather Danny, a legendary goalscorer for the Crues as well as Derry City and Dundalk.

Midfielder Rory (22) has already hit the ground running, claiming a man of the match award as Glentoran were swept aside in the Irish Cup and then featuring in a crucial 1-0 league win at Newry City.

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But there will be more fireworks this afternoon as both sides chase important league points.

"We have a big game on Saturday at home to Linfield and it's important we don't let them build up a bigger lead," said Rory Hale.

"We are focused on getting the three points and will need to produce a big performance to stay in touch with them at the top.

"I've settled in very well. I got man of the match after the Irish Cup win over Glentoran and then we won a tough game at Newry.

"Winning matches is what it's all about. With us playing together at Derry City and now Crusaders it's all a bit of a coincidence. It's great for the whole family and Danny is proud of us."

Rory spent four years at Aston Villa until he was let go by then boss Steve Bruce. The big breakthrough didn't happen and he was back on Irish shores playing for Galway United.

A return home can dent a player's confidence but Rory maintains he's taken it all in his stride.

"Football can be a ruthless business," he acknowledged. "Villa can buy players for £20m-£30m so what chance does a young player have? You need to be playing football and I had to return home and give it a go at Galway.

"I know I'm still young enough to return across the water but I'm not thinking about that at the moment, I'm focused on winning trophies with Crusaders. I was fortunate to win a League Cup with Derry City and it would be nice to win silverware at Seaview."

Rory and Ronan can expect to be cheered on by Danny, who netted more than 300 goals in his astonishing 13-year career.

"Danny's a madman," joked Rory. "He's always talking about himself and all the goals he's scored! No, he's always encouraging us and he's been very supportive. We really appreciate it and he loves us to bits. You always want to do your family proud."

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter is mourning the loss of his father George. Crues assistant boss Jeff Spiers could take charge for today's clash with Linfield.

George, who was in his late 70s, had battled ill health for a few years.

In a recent interview, Stephen explained: "Family is very important because they suffer with you. They know your private thoughts and I have a wonderful family."

Our deep condolences to Stephen and his family.

• Bluefin Sport Championship pacesetters Larne have announced the loan signings of midfield duo Dominic Tear and Isaac Marriott from Huddersfield Town.

Both players have signed on loan until the end of the season, and hope to be available for today's game at home to Loughgall.

The players, who are both 19, have been involved with the English Premier League club's Elite Development Squad this season.

Tear, a right-sided attacking midfielder, was named Academy Player of the Year, while holding midfielder Marriott spent time on loan at Brighouse Town last term.

Larne boss Tiernan Lynch said: "They are two players with exciting futures. Huddersfield were keen to get them a loan move and we discussed the possibility of them coming to Larne and experience of men's football.

"I think they'll bring enthusiasm, legs and a lot of energy."

There will be a minute's applause held ahead of kick-off to mark the passing of Jimmy White and Jimmy Morton.

White was a goalscoring hero of the late '50s and early '60s, while Morton has been associated with the club for more than six decades, working in a number of roles.

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