Crusaders investing on youth while banking on experience

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter feels Paul Heatley is playing a good as ever for the north Belfast side as they prepare to face Glentoran at the Oval tonight
Paul McConville

Danske Bank Premiership: Glentoran v Crusaders (tonight, 7.45pm, live on BBC Sport NI)

Crusaders may have invested in youth this week with two new signings, but manager Stephen Baxter feels they can still bank on returns from the older members of the squad as they seek to capitalise on a fine start to the season when they visit the Oval tonight.

The Irish Cup winners began this season campaign by bagging silverware in the form of the NIFL Charity Shield and followed that up by getting their Danske Bank Premiership campaign off to a flier with a 5-1 win over Dungannon Swifts at Seaview.

Instrumental in both those wins was Paul Heatley, who followed up his goal in 2-0 success over Linfield at Windsor Park with a brace against the Swifts.

After celebrating his testimonial year earlier in the summer, Baxter feels there is still much more to come from the speedy Glengormley man.

"He's a 35-year-old man, and he runs about like an 18-year-old boy," said Baxter.

"He's got that youthful look about him. He's as fit as a butcher's dogs as the man says, he's an absolute ultra flying machine and he's showing no signs of slowing up anytime soon, and I often say that when when you're playing this level of football - I played until I was 38, in our day we played, you know, right through. I sometimes think in the modern game People think once you hit the 30 mark, people are asking 'Is that guy going to retire?'

"And I think far from it. If the body is still producing and you're enjoying it, then play as long as you can, that's my motto.

"So I don't really think around around any of that. I just say, listen, go and enjoy your football, go and play. And Paul right now is playing as good as I've seen him playing for a day or two."

At the other end of the spectrum is 19-year-old Aidan Steele, who returns to Seaview having played his youth football there before spells with Watford and Crystal Palace.

Baxter said: "He is a bright young player. He's got a wonderful, talent. He's a lovely footballer, and he's got that work to do to progress from the youth side of football into the men's game, and and I think I think he's got that potential to really get there."

The Crues have also added 21-year-old goalkeeper Tom Murphy from Co Wicklow. Murphy has had a spell with Everton and will provide back-up for experienced stopper Johnny Tuffey.

The north Belfast side will tonight face a Glentoran side who opened their league campaign with a goalless draw away to Larne last Friday night. The Glens missed out on European football this season following play-off defeat against the Inver Reds.

Crusaders enjoyed a four-game European run this summer, defeating Gibralter side Magpies before exiting the Europa Conference League at the hands of Basel.

However, a 1-1 second leg draw against the Swiss side showed the weren't overawed by their more illustrious opponents and Baxter feels that their European experience has provided the springboard for their good start to the season, which he hopes continues tonight.

"I thought it was a really good thing to be playing teams of this quality. It gave us that opportunity to to chase them, because they were they were so good and they moved the ball about so fast," he said.

"We had to be very disciplined in our approach and not get hammered. So that bode well. We worked really hard in the two games and came out with with credibility, and that was good.

"Sometimes the campaigns can either leave you a little bit flat because you've put so much into it or sort of bolster you a little bit, because you've got a good bit out of it? I felt we got a good bit out of it this year. The boys certainly have bonded well in the European trip. So you can sense that wee bit of togetherness around them at the moment and again another good sign."