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Crusaders can seize chance to clip Magpies’ wings in Europa Conference League qualifiers, says Johnny McMurray


Johnny McMurray celebrates Crusaders' dramatic Irish Cup win

Johnny McMurray celebrates Crusaders' dramatic Irish Cup win

©INPHO/Presseye/Brian Little

Johnny McMurray celebrates Crusaders' dramatic Irish Cup win

It may be only 43 days since Johnny McMurray hit a priceless winning goal to help Crusaders lift the Irish Cup, but the big striker already has his sights fixed on Europa Conference League glory.

The 27-year-old broke Ballymena United hearts at Windsor Park on May 7, scoring with practically the last kick at the end of extra-time.

It was the final twist of an astonishing afternoon. United had led from the ninth minute courtesy of Robbie Weir’s clumsy own goal.

With only 60 seconds of four added minutes remaining, defender Josh Robinson managed to squeeze home the equaliser after goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey joined his attackers to flick on a Paul Heatley corner-kick.

It was left to McMurray to finish the job.

Now, with Gibraltar side FC Bruno’s Magpies next in line, McMurray believes it’s a great chance for his team to progress and set up a showdown with top Swiss outfit Basel in the next round.

“It’s a good draw for us,” says McMurray.

“We don’t know an awful lot about them, but the boss (Stephen Baxter) will be doing his homework, there is no doubt.

“To be honest, I’ve never even heard of them, but they qualified for Europe so that tells us all we need to know. It will be good to go out there, although it will be very hot at this time of the year. I don’t mind that.

“Hopefully we’ll get the chance to acclimatise to the conditions leading up to the game.

“Should we get through, it would be a massive draw against Basel, they are such a big club. It’s not so long ago they were featuring in the Champions League group stages, playing against Liverpool.

“That’s what’s great about playing in Europe, coming up against teams of that calibre.

“It’s a great way to start the season. I always relish the European games because it gets you back again earlier and it means you are really fit for the start of the domestic season. Your game sharpness is there.”

McMurray admits the celebrations went on for some time after that epic Cup win.

“We enjoyed the celebrations, we had a few days on the fizz, it was great craic,” he laughs.

“When I replayed the game, I didn’t realise that Ballymena were so dominant, they were by far the better side for long periods of the game.

“It was tough on them, but it was great for us. We kept going right to the end, other teams could have dropped their heads.

“That’s what good about this Crusaders team. We’ve got people who can score goals from different areas, we just don’t rely on the strikers.

“Josh popped up deep into injury-time, got a little flick at the back post, it was priceless. I certainly didn’t bank on Jonny being up there to flick on the corner-kick.”

Crues boss Baxter has already been busy in the summer transfer market, snapping up 27-year-old striker Dean Ebbe from Welsh side Bala Town, but goalkeeper Sean O’Neill moved to Ballymena United on a permanent basis following a successful loan spell at the end of last season.

“The arrival of Dean means there will be fierce competition for places, which is good,” continues McMurray. “He will give us options.

“The more competition the better, that’s what everyone wants, especially the manager. It helps keeps everyone on their toes, it means you have to up your levels if they want to hold onto the shirt.

“Losing Sean is a blow. I didn’t know he had left until Thursday night. He’s a great guy and will be missed in the dressing room. He was just one of those characters, he gets everyone pumped up before games, people like that are hard to come by.

“But he just wants to play games and Ballymena United can offer him that opportunity, good luck to him.”

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