Belfast Telegraph

Ruddy is hoping to be the daddy on and off Windsor pitch

Crusaders ace Michael Ruddy
Crusaders ace Michael Ruddy

By Graham Luney

Crusaders ace Michael Ruddy is braced for a very special double celebration.

The former Ballymena United and Ards defender doesn't only have Irish Cup glory on his mind.

His partner Kirsty is due to give birth to the couple's first child as the baby was expected to arrive last week.

The 25-year-old is riding an emotional rollercoaster, knowing he can become a father again and lift the Irish Cup for the first time this month.

His three-year-old daughter Zelena is too young to be a mascot for the big game but will be among the fans hoping the Crues can conquer Championship side Ballinamallard.

Ruddy is sure that his place in the matchday squad is not in doubt, though he admits his phone is never far from his side.

"My little one is coming to Windsor but my partner Kirsty is overdue with our baby," he said.

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"It's nip and tuck in terms of timing ahead of the final!

"Zelena is three in June but too young to be a mascot. She loves going to the football and always wants to kick the ball in the garden. My mum, dad, granda and wider family will be there.

"I will play in the final, I'll be there and Saturday could be the biggest day of my life, not just for football reasons! My phone is on standby and we will see what happens.

"It would be a nice double celebration to become a father and hopefully win the Cup, a unique and special moment. You dream of these moments in your life and I'm trying to stay calm. The baby will come when it's ready."

Left-back Ruddy is hungry to make a big impact in the showpiece after injury ruined his chances of featuring for the Sky Blues in the 2014 decider against Glenavon.

"It's a game I'm really looking forward to because I had a disappointing time with Ballymena going into an Irish Cup final," he added. "I was injured and came back a few weeks before the decider but didn't make the squad.

"I went to the game but you don't feel part of it. I shook everyone's hand and wished them good luck but you need to play in these big games. It probably didn't hurt me as much as it could have as I had been injured. I didn't have enough time to get fit and come back playing.

"So this will be my first Irish Cup final appearance. I missed out on a number of finals through injuries and bad luck. When I signed for Crusaders I said to Stephen Baxter, 'I'm joining the club because I want to win trophies'. I was turning 25 and didn't have a winner's medal. This season's County Antrim Shield was the first one and an Irish Cup win would cap off a good year."

Ruddy insists he won't be nervous on the big stage and he now feels like a key member of the side after a frustrating start to the season when he needed to show patience.

"You are signing for one of the biggest clubs in the country in terms of success over the last few years and it was always going to be difficult to establish myself," he said. "I needed to be patient and stake a claim once I had settled in. I started to earn the trust of the manager and my team-mates. I feel I have done that from November onwards.

"This will be a new experience, my first Irish Cup final and I won't fear it, I'll relish it. I won't be nervous. There's zero chance of the boys under-estimating Ballinamallard."

Former world boxing champion Carl Frampton will be at Windsor hoping the Crues can land a knockout blow on United.

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