Football/Soccer

The sky is the limit for Crusaders: Philip Lowry

Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter says standards won't slip under his watch

CRUSADERS midfielder Philip Lowry says the “sky is the limit” for the Shore Road club after they clinched the Irish Cup last weekend and believes the Irish Premier League could reach new heights next season.

Lowry, who won three Irish Cups with Linfield during his five-year stint there between 2009 and 2014, grabbed Crusaders' second goal of three goals as they swept aside rank outsiders Ballinamallard United on Saturday.

“When I was at the Blues, it was all about the Blues and Glens but that's long gone now,” said Lowry, who also featured for Derry City, Institute and Portadown.

“Crusaders are right up there with the standards they're setting, on and off the pitch, everything is moving in the right direction.

“You only have to take a trip around Seaview to see how fast things are moving. The sky is the limit for this club. It's testament to Stephen [Baxter] and Jeff [Spiers].

“Crusaders have got this mindset it's ‘us against the rest' and it seems to be working well. The club is churning out league titles, Irish Cups and Co Antrim Shields.

“People used to say Crusaders were a good cup side but now they're a juggernaut of an Irish League club and they're up there competing for all the trophies.”

The Crues have taken their first tentative steps to becoming a fully-fledged full-time club this season – but Lowry says it will take a few more years before they start to see the benefits.

“It came out last summer that Crusaders were going full-time and everyone thought straight away they're full-time and you had opposition managers saying that they'd just beaten a full-time team when really we were doing an two extra hours a week.”

The 29-year-old midfielder added: “It'll be three or four years down the line and speaking to people behind the scenes they've big plans to bring a lot of youth through. It's brought a degree of professionalism around the club and fitness levels have gone up but clubs around the league are buying into the same thing.

“You look at Larne [just promoted], they will be a force next year and I know the Blues are talking about doing a few extra sessions. For Irish League players it's a dream to play full-time football in Northern Ireland.

“It's going to be a real, real good league next season. The Glens have a bit of investment, the Blues will be stronger again, ourselves and you'd imagine Cliftonville will kick on with a new manager and set up there. So everything is looking rosy for Irish League football.”

Meanwhile, Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter, who added his second Irish Cup to the long list of honours he's won with the north Belfast club, says there will be no slacking as long as he's in charge.

“It has taken us 10 years to get to this point and three league titles, two Irish Cups and a few others along the way. And they are hard to win. That is some going for this group of players…

“You drive the guys on so they can achieve what they've achieved and you make sure they do that because they are the best. They set their own standard and my job is to make sure they don't fall below that standard and to keep them motivated. If you let those levels drop a little that's when you get lazy around lots of wee things.”

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