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Football/Soccer

Crusaders' Carvill hoping for dream finish at Ballymena

Michael Carvill hopes to be celebrating a title triumph with Crusaders at Ballymena this afternoon.

A SLEEPLESS night wasn’t a worry for Michael Carvill yesterday – but he knows weeks without shut-eye will ensue if his Crusaders side don’t win the league today.

The Seaview men return to Ballymena, the scene of last season’s nightmare, a disastrous 3-0 defeat on the penultimate weekend which ultimately cost them a title hat-trick.

His old club Linfield went on to take the trophy and the 30-year-old recalls: “I couldn’t sleep for about three weeks after that there. I’ll never forget it.

“It destroyed the whole summer. The fans were obviously let down and disappointed, but as players and a squad that day really hurt us.

“I remember sitting in the changing room afterwards – as shown in that BBC documentary – and the manager couldn’t even speak he was that hurt. The players were just distraught, annoyed with ourselves.

“That’s possibly our biggest advantage that that happened and we know what it felt like. If we can’t get ourselves right then we haven’t learnt anything from last year.”

Indeed, Carvill labels the Warden Street Showgrounds as “a perfect place to go after last year”, although he does say that with a rueful laugh.

He’s in jovial mood, asking “What’s happening tomorrow?”, before seriously insisting they’re ready for the last round of their title tussle with rivals Coleraine:

“At this stage of the game it’s too late to be nervous. It’s been an ongoing battle all season, we’ve been constantly head to head… Now we’ve got one match to go and we know if we win, we win the league.

“I think we’re in a very advantageous situation – but the world of football doesn’t always work like that, so it’ll be an interesting day.

“My first title at Linfield went to the last day, and there was last year, but I’ve never been going into the last day knowing a win would win the league, we always needed a favour from somebody else.

“This is completely in our hands. If we won’t win we’ve nobody else to blame – and what a perfect place to go after last year.”

Indeed Stephen Baxter’s side emphatically exorcised any demons when they returned to the Ballymena Showgrounds in the opening game of this campaign. Granted, they trailed as the game entered its final half hour, but a four-goal blast from then on ensured a convincing 4-1 victory.

It’s that goal power which has put the Crues in pole position today, amazingly averaging more than 2.8 goals per league game, giving them a far superior goal difference to title rivals Coleraine.

Carvill accepts that, and some better performances at today’s venue: “We won that day and we won the County Antrim Shield convincingly down at Ballymena [against United], so we’ve got good recent memories of Ballymena.”

However, he’s taking nothing for granted. Even if the home support tomorrow would rather see Crusaders win to deny their arch-rivals Coleraine the title, Carvill is adamant the Ballymena boss won’t view it like that:

“The fans, yes, but David Jeffrey is not like that. He doesn’t want to see anyone else celebrating on his turf, proud man that he is.

“I worked for David Jeffrey for seven years and I know that’s his team talk. I could quote word for word, I know what he’ll be saying to his players. Under no circumstances will he be putting out a weakened team – and he will have them running through a brick wall. We have to prepare for that.

“He’s also very close to ‘Winkie’ [Murphy] and Oran Kearney [the Coleraine management. He’s got respect, morals, and values. I’d be the exact same.

“Some managers do do it – I won’t quote names – but I could never put out a lesser team when there’s so much riding on it.”

His current club boss deserves similar praise for putting the Crues in contention once again: “Since I joined Crusaders, Stephen Baxter has built a squad that is always there now, always challenging for the title. That shows you how much we re-grouped at the start of the season after the disappointment [of last year].

“I can still see Aaron Burns saying last year that if Linfield won the league they’d go on and dominate with the young squad they have – and I could see where he was coming from.

“But we’ve bounced back and come back strong. We deserve a lot of credit – but obviously if we don’t win the league that won’t be remembered.”

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