Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter wary of threat posed by Ballinamallard's Richard Clarke

Stephen Baxter is all too aware of the threat posed by Ballinamallard United captain Richard Clarke.

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter
Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter

Baxter brought the silky midfielder to Crusaders in 2014, and he played his part in bringing two league titles to Seaview.

Now Clarke is weaving his magic with the Mallards and Baxter knows it will be key for the Crues to stop him playing on Saturday.

“Richard is a personal friend. He called me straight after the semi-finals and we had a good chat and a good laugh,” explained the Crues boss.

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter

“Then I said ‘we can’t talk again until the final is over’.

“Richard is a fabulous person and I am very close to him, but he is now my arch enemy as he is to the rest of the boys.

“He is a great footballer and he is the one who will make their team tick. He passes the ball extremely well. I have watched him closely already.

“Ballinamallard aren’t in this final by mistake. They have beaten two top class sides en route to here. They are here on merit, and will be treated as such.

“We will try and deal with the difficulty of Richard Clarke on the day.”

Crusaders last Irish Cup win in 2009 kick started a decade of success, and Baxter hopes another win will do the same.

“We have only won the Irish Cup three times in the club’s history, and won the league title seven times. So we are not rich like Linfield and Glentoran’s success, and a few others,” he said.

"I have said to the boys, you have to be serial winners. They can’t think this is a one off, the great players are remembered for being serial winners.

“That’s what great players like the Billy McNeills of Celtic, and others they talk about, do. They become serial winners.

“And that’s what I am telling my guys to become - serial winners.”

The Crues overcame a tough cup run to earn their place in the final against the Championship side, but Baxter is refusing to think the result is a foregone conclusion.

"It might be more difficult given we don't know as much about Ballinamallard," he said.

"But as professional football clubs do, you have to do your homework and watch and analyse the opposition and cater our training around a game of this magnitude. We have done all that and training has been good.

"The atmosphere in the camp is good and we are ready for it. Sometimes when you're playing Linfield or Coleraine in head-to-head games, it comes down to a break of the ball on the day and they are huge games of football.

"This might be a little bit different, but at the end of the day there is a trophy on the line. When there is a trophy there you have to make sure your boys are ready, and I can assure you my boys are ready.

"The players look after themselves, in terms of getting ready for games and preparing.

"But every game requires 100 per cent concentration on who the opposition is, and how you get across that next jump in the hurdle race.

"So we approach each game individually and during the season we motor towards what might be the final, and then you throw your best shot into that final when you reach it.

"We don't get drawn into things like 'our name is on the trophy' or destiny or anything like that. I am not a believer in any of that. You earn everything you get. You have to go out and perform and play for that trophy.

"Nobody hands it to you and Ballinamallard will want it just as much as us. If we want it more than them, we have to fight tooth and nail to get it. There are no names on the trophy until the final whistle sounds. Our name is certainly not on it.