IRISH LEAGUE: Stephen Baxter sights set on a treble with Crusaders

Crusaders, 2016 Gibson Cup winners
Crusaders, 2016 Gibson Cup winners

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter was still basking in his team’s historic Danske Premiership title win when he sent out a sobering message, stating . . . ‘we’ll be out for the hat-trick next season’!

His players had just written themselves into the record books by becoming the first Crusaders side to win back-to-back championships - and how they enjoyed it.

Their penultimate league game against Coleraine was merely a side show, everyone had come to Seaview to party.

Big Jordan Owens popped up with a first half winner against a Coleraine team that certainly can feel hard done by as their performance merited more.

But on the final blast of referee Mervyn Smyth’s whistle, the Shore Road venue was awash with red and black.

And, when the Gibson Cup was handed over to skipper Colin Coates, they place went into a frenzy.

“When you have a squad as capable as these guys are, then you have to push on,” beamed Baxter.

“We are champions for a reason. We are now up there to be shot at.

“We’ll need to up our gears next season, that’s why we are looking to strengthen the squad. Quite a few players have left since Christmas, so we were down the bones a little bit.

“Cliftonville have won it (the title) twice, we have now won it twice, but make no mistake about it, we’ll be in there competing extra hard next season.

“We’ll enjoy this success, but we are already planning ahead. These guys have a great hunger and they’re still not finished.”

Baxter revealed the Glentoran defender Marcus Kane is top of his wish list.

He added: “We’ve tried to do some business with Glentoran to bring Marcus to the club. We made a couple of offers, which haven’t been accepted. We have been looking at Marcus for a while now. In fact, we made another offer last week again.

“We’ll see what comes of that. Managers will obviously look at their squads at this time of the season and make important decisions.

“We have most of the players signed up for next season, although we are waiting on the outcome of what will happen to Josh Robinson.

“He’s had a few trials at Scunthorpe and Fleetwood. There has been no comeback on that as yet. If the clubs are interested, they have to now put their money where their mouth is. I think Josh will agree terms if things don’t work out for him. He’s a promising player.

“He certainly has still a bit to do, but he could potentially become a top centre-half in this country. Outside of that, we have other people we are looking at to try and strengthen the squad.

“We’ve already agreed pre-contract terms with a couple of players (David Cushley and Michael Gault), but we have irons in the fire for a few more. I can’t really say too much right now.”

Baxter hailed the performance of his squad - they are champions for a reason.

“You are judged on 38 games of football,” he added.

“If you told me five years ago we would win back to back I would have laughed at you."