Belfast Telegraph

I'll stay with Crusaders for as long as they want me, says Sean O'Neill

We’ve done it: Crusaders pair David Cushley (left) and Sean O’Neill celebrate win
We’ve done it: Crusaders pair David Cushley (left) and Sean O’Neill celebrate win

By Steven Beacom

Crusaders goalkeeper Sean O'Neill has insisted he never wants to leave the club after helping the Shore Road outfit claim their latest trophy.

O'Neill submitted a transfer request in December and was struggling for game time, with Harry Doherty ahead of him in the pecking order and new signing Gerard Doherty on his way to Seaview.

Since then the 30-year-old, who joined the north Belfast side in 2011, has returned to the team and shown his qualities.

Regarded as a huge influence off the pitch during a successful period for the Crues, it shouldn't be underestimated how vital he has been on it.

In Tuesday's 4-3 victory over Linfield in the County Antrim Shield final, O'Neill could have done better with the opposition's opening two goals but his wonder save from Mark Stafford with the Crues 3-2 down allowed them the chance to go on and claim the prize in dramatic fashion late on.

After David Cushley's injury time winner, O'Neill raced 100 yards to celebrate with his team-mates.

"It was special. We stuck to our guns. That's the thing about this team," said O'Neill.

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"At 3-1 down I thought we were still in the game and it was important to reassure people at half-time when others thought the game was over.

"Fair play to Linfield, though. They held on for so long but eventually the pressure told in the end.

"I'm so pleased to play a part and help the side.

"The thing about it when I was put on the transfer list was that I thought I was going to be third choice at the club.

"But I'm never going to leave Crusaders, it's as simple as that. As long as Crusaders still want me, I want to be at the club."

Typically extrovert O'Neill had a few words with Linfield supporters during the final as the third placed Crues forgot about inconsistency in the league to clinch their first trophy of the season, with possibly the Irish Cup to come.

"I was having a bit of banter with the Linfield men. At 3-1 they were singing 'O'Neill, what's the score?', but when I was walking back to my goal after we made it 3-2 I could see a few nervous faces, and then at 3-3 they were quiet," said the goalkeeper.

"When it went 4-3, it was a nice way to end the night. The result is for our supporters. It's been a difficult season for us; we didn't start too well but this keeps smiles on their faces."

Crusaders are due to play their final home game of the season on Saturday against Cliftonville. They could be back at Seaview in the European play-offs but know that won't be necessary if they win the Irish Cup.

Later this month the third placed Crues, who are 14 points behind league leaders Linfield, face Coleraine in the semi-finals.

"The Irish Cup is the be-all and end-all for us now but we won't be throwing in the towel in terms of our league campaign," added O'Neill. "We'll go into every game and give it our all and we know from our own experiences two years ago leads can be lost.

"You never know what might happen."

Goalscoring hero Cushley added: "It was fantastic to win the County Antrim Shield, and to do it the way we did made it even more special.

"To come from 3-1 down in a final against a team like Linfield was brilliant for us and our supporters.

"The conditions were obviously very difficult but credit to both teams for putting on such an entertaining match," he said.

Cushley, who scored the title-clinching goal last season, is a man for the big occasion, but he is modest about it.

"All of the boys were brilliant," he said.

"We knew even at 3-1 down at half-time we had a chance because the wind was with us, and all the boys put in a big performance showing how much it meant to us to win," added the forward.

"It's great to have another trophy on the board and now hopefully we can finish the season on a high because we still have a lot to play for."

Belfast Telegraph


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