Stephen Baxter eyes Irish Cup hat-trick

The Irish Cup may have eluded Stephen Baxter during his playing career but the Crusaders boss is targeting a third success in the competition as a manager.

By Steven Crawford
Saturday, 7th May 2022, 11:00 am

The former striker built up an impressive medal haul during a 20-year playing career in the Irish League but the Cup was the one that got away.

He put the record straight in 2009 two years after taking over the Seaview hot-seat as mark Dickson’s goal was enough to see off north Belfast rivals Cliftonville and win a first Irish Cup for the Crues in 41 years.

A decade later he added a second as the Hatchetmen eased past Championship side Ballinamallard United 3-0 in the final.

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Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter

Now Baxter is hoping to repeat the feat and add a third cup medal to his trophy cabinet.

“The Irish Cup eluded me as a player,” said the Crusaders boss.

“I got into one final while at Linfield, which we lost to Glenavon.

“I think I probably lost a dozen semi-finals over the course of my career at Crusaders and Linfield.

“Some players never get to a final and go through a whole career of maybe never winning a trophy or a medal.

“To do it once is great, but to go on and do it two, three, four or five times is amazing.

“But you never take any of this stuff for granted.

“You have to work exceptionally hard to get here, and you have to work exceptionally hard to win it, and if you’re lucky enough to do it you want to come back and do it again.”

Mark Dickson’s goal back in 2009 kickstarted a hugely successful period for the Crues and Baxter is hoping that a win this afternoon can do something similar with his current squad.

“In the first half of the year we probably didn’t score enough goals,” he said.

“We’ve found a little bit of form in the back end of the season.

“We’ve been there or thereabouts with the top teams all season, there’s been very little in it really.

“Can an Irish Cup win kick start something? Probably the answer is yes.

“Being successful and winning trophies probably allows you to build squads to give you the opportunity to challenge.

“But all the teams are trying to recruit players to be successful because there is only that hair’s breadth between the teams.

“There are so many elements which go into it, but trying to kick on is something which we all work very hard at.

“I think winning trophies breeds success and confidence.”

It has already been a special season for the 56-year-old as he recently reached the milestone of managing Crusaders for the 850th time.

Baxter though admitted he doesn’t spend much time just yet reflecting on personal records.

“Whilst you think of the milestones and the games which come your way like coming up against the likes of Wolves and Fulham, it sort of pales into insignificance because you’re always preparing for the next game,” he said.

“I never sit back and think about what I’ve done because what matters is the here and now and who’s fit.

“My wife always says to me about having all these teams written down before a game and that’s constant.

“That focus and preparation never leaves you. You just get on with it, you never get that opportunity to sit down and think about what has happened.

“Maybe when I’m bored with it and wrap it all up I’ll maybe reflect on it all.

“Every part of me is fired up to continue and drive on to do exceptionally well, and why not?

“We’re still riding the crest of a wave.

“They are lovely milestones when you reach them, but it was nearly a shock to me when someone mentioned it was my 850th game.

“I just get on with it. What worries me more is making sure we’re competitive, what players we have and how we’re preparing over the summer.

“There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes and those are the things which probably keep me awake at night, not what I have achieved, that will be for another day.”