'Hats off to Linfield': Crusaders star Ward concedes Blues deserved title triumph as he aims for Irish Cup win
Sean Ward has congratulated Linfield on their title success but he also believes Crusaders can make it another season to remember with Irish Cup glory.
Stephen Baxter's side take on Championship outfit Ballinamallard United in the showpiece final on May 4 at Windsor Park.
The Shore Road men raised the white flag in their title defence but they did overcome Linfield in thrilling fashion to win the County Antrim Shield last month.
And the Hatchetmen are hoping to lift the Irish Cup for the first time since their victory over Cliftonville in 2009.
The added bonus for a Cup win would be a Europa League place and the riches it brings along with it.
Baxter is currently shuffling his pack while wary of suspensions and injuries, with their two final league games this week being a trip to Coleraine this evening followed by a visit to Ballymena United on Saturday.
"The league table never lies," admitted Ward, who has a league winner's medals with Glentoran, Linfield and Crusaders.
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"I have a lot of good friends at Linfield and, as disappointed as we are with our own title challenge, I can relate to how happy they are.
"Linfield have been superb, scoring goals from all over the pitch. Hats off to them and congratulations as they have got the big prize.
"We did not get a run of consistency going and we dropped points when we really shouldn't have.
"We lost key players at key times of the year and our starting eleven changed regularly. Linfield probably used the same 15 to 16 players throughout the season but we aren't looking for any excuses.
"Our squad was rotated as much last season as this time and we have fallen short.
"At times we should have done better and we didn't start the season well. That hurt us big time.
"If any team at the start of the season was offered the County Antrim Shield, Irish Cup and European qualification they would grab your hand off, but we have a lot of work to do to achieve that.
"It's testament to Crusaders that we are extremely disappointed not to win the league and that tells you how far the club has come.
"European football is everything now, it's a huge financial prize and we can still make second in the league and win the Cup."