Belfast Telegraph

Why another Premiership title would top the lot for Crusaders' Paul Heatley


On brink: Paul Heatley is eyeing a big finale
On brink: Paul Heatley is eyeing a big finale

By Steven Beacom

Crusaders hero Paul Heatley believes if the Seaview men manage to clinch the Irish League title on Saturday it will be their most satisfying in recent seasons.

Heatley has shone again this term, much as he did when the north Belfast outfit claimed championship glory in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 campaigns.

On those occasions the Crues won by six and 10 points respectively. This time around it could go down to goal difference after what has been an absorbing battle between themselves and Coleraine.

Approaching the final weekend, Crusaders and the Bannsiders have 88 points from 37 games. Stephen Baxter's side are top because they have a goal difference of +67 compared to +45 for their nearest rivals.

Oran Kearney's team travel to face third-placed Glenavon while the Crues are at Ballymena United, where last season their bid for a third league title in a row unravelled, giving Linfield the opportunity to pip them at the post.

Newly-crowned Ulster Footballer of the Year Gavin Whyte has deservedly taken many plaudits this season but Heatley has excelled too, scoring 21 league goals, the latest of which was a beauty at the weekend in a 1-1 draw at home to Cliftonville, who had taken the lead through a crackerjack of a strike from Joe Gormley.

No doubt Heatley will be a key factor for Baxter's side at Ballymena.

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"It has been a bit of a rollercoaster season but the important thing is that it is in our hands going into the final game and that's all you can really ask for," said the former Carrick Rangers hero.

"We will go into the match with Ballymena United feeling very confident and fingers crossed that we can get the job done and get the win we need.

"It is the biggest match of the campaign for us and we'll do what we have done all season and go for the win.

"When you look at the points tally that we are on I don't think you would change anything in terms of our approach. I feel we are in really good form. We are just not getting that little bit of luck to get over the line in some games but it's in our hands and we will be well prepared and focused when Saturday comes.

Asked if this title would be the pick of the bunch, Heatley said: "It probably would be. The other two titles that we won we did so by some distance. It was quite comfortable in the last few games.

"This season has been the most hard-fought. Coleraine have been fantastic and have continued to come back in games to keep themselves hanging in there to give themselves a chance, but we focus on ourselves and nothing else really matters."

On the defeat at Ballymena late last season, for Heatley it won't be a factor.

He said: "Whatever has happened in the past stays in the past so we have one game to look after and we are confident that we can do it.

"Maybe players individually will take what happened last season as a bit of extra strength and motivation to push them on. For me personally, I'll treat it as just another game.

"You can't get too excited or carried away or too anxious. It's a game of football and if we show up and play to our best we should win it."

Ballymena Utd vs Crusaders

Danske Bank Premiership

Ballymena Showgrounds, Saturday, 3.00pm

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