Crusaders hitting top form at the right time warns Sean O’Neill

Crusaders goalkeeper Sean O’Neill believes his team are ‘back in the groove’ and are relishing the prospect of appearing in yet another Irish Cup final.

The former Northern Ireland Under-21 international, who is now established as one of the best shot stoppers in the league, is convinced the Shore Road boys can be part of the ‘big day’ in early May.

Stephen Baxter’s side have already tasted a fair degree of disappointment, having lost to Cliftonville in the League Cup final and to Linfield in the County Antrim Shield decider - both on penalties.

But that has made them even more determined ahead of Saturday’s semi final showdown with Glenavon at Windsor Park.

“We have played ourselves out of a run of poor form,” said O’Neill.

“We are now back on track and producing the form we showed during the early part of the season.

“The Festive time was a terrible period for us. That’s when our league title hopes evaporated. It killed us. We were there or thereabouts - top of the league at one time, but we had too many drawn games.

“It was during that time we lost a number of our big players to injury and suspension. Coatsie (Colin Coates), who in my opinion is the best defender in the league and Chrissie Morrow, to me one of the best midfielders in the league, were both out. The spine of the team was missing.

“Over the last few weeks, we have put a few things right. We’ve found the winning formula again and hopefully we can keep that going. Everyone is now back, fit again. They are back at the right time.

“It really could be a big end of the season for us. European football would be a massive boost for everyone,” he added.

“We’ve been involved in European ever since I arrived at Seaview. It’s gives you the perfect build-up for a new season. We are now in third place in the table and have opened up a five point gap on Portadown.

“It’s a long way to claw back with only four games left. But we are also desperate to get a trophy. The Irish Cup would be the icing on the cake.”

O’Neill insists the Crues are ‘in it to win it’ in spite of the fact that Gary Hamilton’s Glenavon are one of the most improved teams in the league.

“Personally, I’m looking forward to the final and that is not being disrespectful to Glenavon I’ve just got it in the back of my head,” he added.

“It didn’t matter to us who we were drawn against. I suppose everyone was looking for the minnows, Queen’s University, but there is a surprise factor there, you don’t know what you are coming up against.

“In saying that, I would expect Ballymena United to win with a bit to spare when they face them. Glenn Ferguson knows all about Irish Cup finals and he’ll have his boys well drilled in reaching the big day.

“On the other hand, Crusaders and Glenavon are two evenly matched teams. Everyone appears to be labelling us a ‘physical’ team. That’s how we are branded by many people.

“But I can honestly say that Glenavon can put it up to you. They are a big physical team, with lots of experience. It’s something we have to match.

“We are becoming accustomed to appearing in semi finals and finals. Crusaders Football Club has been in a good place over the past five years or so.

“But it’s not good enough reaching the last four we need to push on to the final.”