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Sky Blues are next on list of Crues cup scalps: Burns

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Cup king: Billy Joe Burns hopes to kill off Ballymena United the way he punished Linfield at Windsor in the last round

Cup king: Billy Joe Burns hopes to kill off Ballymena United the way he punished Linfield at Windsor in the last round

Cup king: Billy Joe Burns hopes to kill off Ballymena United the way he punished Linfield at Windsor in the last round

Ballymena United's scintillating form this season may have surprised a few observers but not Crusaders ace Billy Joe Burns who knows all about David Jeffrey's motivational powers.

2016 Ulster Football of the Year Burns left Linfield to join Crusaders in the summer of 2014 and some Blues fans are still wondering how he was allowed to move on.

During a fantastic eight years at Windsor Park, the defender enjoyed many highlights as Jeffrey steered the ship, including three Premiership titles and three Irish Cup wins.

When a player leaves the Blues it's assumed the only way is down, but the silverware and good times kept rolling at Crusaders with three league titles and a County Antrim Shield keeping the champagne flowing.

Another Irish Cup success would taste sweet, particularly for the north Belfast side who haven't lifted the prize since 2009.

But the thirst for glory in this competition is even greater on Warden Street as Ballymena United are chasing their first triumph since 1989.

With Linfield, Glenavon and Cliftonville out of the competition, the door has opened slightly for these two Premiership heavyweights but one runner must fall at Seaview tomorrow.

The Sky Blues are still nursing the wounds from their League Cup final loss to Linfield and a perfect way to exorcise those demons is to win this season's Irish Cup.

That would be a fitting reward for the form which has seen them climb to second in the Premiership and Burns is not surprised Jeffrey is transforming United into a formidable force.

"Ballymena United have certainly been one of the biggest surprises of the season in terms of their league form but they deserve huge credit for that," said the 29-year-old.

"They have been fantastic and they tanked us once or twice. I've experience of playing under David Jeffrey and know that players will run though brick walls for him. More than that, they are playing really good football and earning respect for that.

"They are high up the league table on merit and they deserve all the respect they are getting. They will be very tough opponents for us in the Irish Cup, even though we are playing at home."

Glentoran and Linfield have already been put to the sword by the Crues in this season's competition and the hurdles don't get any less daunting with Ballymena United up next in this quarter-final scrap.

Stephen Baxter's side haven't been handed an easy route, but Burns, who scored the dramatic extra-time winner against the Blues in the sixth round, is happy to slay a few big beasts.

"We felt after the draw we are doing it the hard way in the Irish Cup, but if you want to win it you are going to have to play the best teams sooner or later," he added.

"We might as well knock out big sides if we can. There are still plenty of teams there who can potentially beat us, including the holders Coleraine.

"You just hope for a home draw in the Irish Cup and thankfully we got it.

"Ballymena United won't mind playing at Seaview. It's a good surface to play on."

With the Crues' title defence virtually over, it feels like a transitional period for a squad adjusting to a new more full-time approach.

Baxter has also added some youthful energy to the side in moving for the Hale brothers, Rory and Ronan, along with winger Reece McGinley.

"Stephen has brought in a few younger players which is a different approach to previous years when older heads came in," added Burns.

"Obviously we didn't start the season too well and perhaps the manager felt we needed some fresh blood. The two Hale brothers Ronan and Rory are smashing footballers, and Rory in particular has the potential to become the best player in the league."

• Former Linfield striker Paul Munster has been appointed as head coach of the Vanuatu national team.

Belfast Telegraph