Stephen Baxter excited by Crusaders’ summer recruitment drive

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter reckons his three big summer signings will help raise the bar even further as his team embark on another Danske Bank Premiership campaign.

The Shore Road boys have experienced many memorable moments over the past number of years, which culminated in their Setanta Sports Cup final win over Derry City in 2012.

Even though they finished without a trophy last season, albeit they were beaten in two cup finals, agonisingly in penalty shoot-outs, Baxter insists his team is ready to kick on in their quest for silverware.

“You always want to improve – you can never stand still in this game,” said Baxter. “The other teams around you are improving, so it’s imperative that you up your game.

“I’ve no doubt that our three new signings will help us in terms of our quest for trophies – Billy Joe Burns, Dairmuid O’Carroll and Stephen Cockcroft.

“Billy Joe and Dairmuid hauled in a bag of medals from their time at Linfield and Cliftonville respectively, so their experience will be crucial. Perhaps in previous seasons, we were not in a position to bring players like the to the club.

“Young Cockcroft is a raw talent, but already we’ve seen what an exciting prospect he is. He began at Linfield Swifts and moved on to Ards before joining H&W Welders. He’s already been part of our European adventure and even scored against FK Ekranas.

“He’ll now have to learn to adapt to the pressures of the Irish League. I’ve no doubt he can do that. “

Baxter was thrilled with his team’s efforts in the Europa League, defeat Lithuanian side EF Ekranas to register their own little piece of history by becoming the first Crusaders side to progress in Europe.

Although they crashed to a 4-0 defeat against Swedish side IF Brommapojkarna in round two, the Crues produced an outstanding display in the second leg at Seaview, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw, in a game they should really have won with a little bit to spare.

“Those games gave us a good grounding for the new season,” added Baxter.

“It was part of our pre-season. The reality is we were never going to go too far in the tournament, but it was excellent preparation for the bread and butter stuff. It also helped earn the club a bit of financial reward.”

Baxter’s team finished third in the table last season – and runners-up the year before. He again is aiming to be up there come May.

“You always set early targets,” he added.

“We’ve been in and around the top two or three in recent years and we have to be aiming for that this season. You always have a fair indication around Christmas time of how the season is panning out.

“Obviously, Cliftonville are again going to be the team to beat. They have set the standard for the past two years. Linfield will be determined to get among the silverware again under a new manager.

“But, for me, Glenavon could be the dark horses. They have made significant progress under Gary Hamilton and winning the Irish Cup could well be lift off for them.”