Belfast Telegraph

I'd love to dazzle at Windsor but Crusaders team display is all that matters: Heatley

Paul Heatley
Paul Heatley

By Steven Beacom

Paul Heatley has just about done it all in Irish League football but he has never played in an Irish Cup final.

That will change today when the brilliant winger faces Championship outfit Ballinamallard United at Windsor Park in the showpiece game of the season.

Heatley has the ability to win the trophy on his own, though for the 31-year-old this afternoon will be all about team success rather than individual glory.

He said: "Windsor is big and open with an immaculate surface and it's the perfect platform for players to go and express themselves and show their abilities.

"Hopefully I can shine but I would happily take a terrible individual performance for a team win. That's the most important thing.

"It's my first Irish Cup final and I can't wait for it. Actually for a lot of our players it is the first experience of an Irish Cup final because the club haven't been in it for a while so it's a big day for everyone.

"We have won league titles in recent years and other trophies but it's not just a case of Crusaders players turning up with vast experience of this occasion.

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"We certainly don't have that. What we must do, though, is relish the experience.

"It's the pinnacle one-off game of the season and all eyes are on it. I can't wait for it."

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter has been honest about his side's league title challenge.

They finished fourth and Baxter has acknowledged it wasn't what is expected or demanded these days.

For all that, the north Belfast men could finish up with two trophies this season if successful against the Fermanagh side having previously won the County Antrim Shield final versus Linfield, who claimed league title and League Cup honours. It would also guarantee European football for the Crues.

"For such a difficult season, it's funny to think that we could end up with half of the domestic trophies available to us," said Heatley.

"Linfield have already picked up two and hopefully we can pick up our second at the weekend.

"It would be great to turn it around having had such a poor start to the campaign but we won't take it for granted.

"We have to go out and perform to get the win."

Elaborating on that, Heatley says due respect will be given to Harry McConkey's battlers who overcame top-flight Dungannon Swifts and Warrenpoint Town in the last two rounds.

"You have to give credit where credit is due. Ballinamallard are in the final for a reason," stated Heatley.

"That's because they have knocked out every other team they have come up against. Regardless of where they are in terms of positions below us in league terms, they have warranted their success in the Cup and deserve to be in the final.

"We have to take them as seriously as we would anyone.

"You can't go half hearted into a Cup final.

"We plan to go into the game as professionally as always.

"The manager and the players will make sure of that."

Manager Baxter, meanwhile, faces the unenviable task of leaving some players out of his starting XI and even his squad on the big day.

It is one of the painful but necessary jobs a manager must make on the big day.

"It is terrible," admitted the Crues boss.

"It will be the hardest part of the day, having to take three people aside and then tell them that they didn't make the panel.

"They are all worthy of making it, so that's the difficult part of it for me.

"But I have to do it, and the boys respect that.

"They expect me to make the big calls, and I am happy to make the big calls."

Crusaders vs Ballinamallard U

Tennent's Irish Cup final:

Windsor Park, Today, 2.30pm

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