Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Crusaders F.C. Irn-Bru Cup Final 2011/12

Eyes set on the Irn Bru League CupOn Saturday 28th January, in front of the TV cameras of the BBC and an eager crowd, Coleraine FC and Crusaders FC went head to head at the Ballymena Showgrounds. The prize, the Irn-Bru sponsored Irish League Cup.

I woke late on the day of the game and have to admit that it was an odd morning, you see it just didn't seem like other cup final days until we were at the game - I was looking forward to it but compared to the games against Linfield, Glentoran and Cliftonville of the past few years, the difference was that I felt relaxed about this game. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't confident of a result, how can you ever be, Coleraine are a good side and in football anything can happen, it just didn't feel like there was the same pressure of hope and fear as with other finals. I wonder if it could have also been because we were heading to the Ballymena Showgrounds and not Windsor Park? Whichever, everything just seemed to be a lot more chilled.

Playing Coleraine is never an easy task - as proven by both sides having drawn both times they've met in the league this season. Going by the pre-match build up online, I wasn't the only one thinking it'd be a tight game.

And so, as we contemplated the game ahead with a pint and packet of crisps in the Crusaders social club whilst watching some FA cup football on the big screen, we weren't putting forward predictions. We knew it was all down to whether the Crues would be the same side who gave Fulham a run for their money at Seaview earlier in the season or if the team were going to perform like we did against Donegal Celtic and lose to soft goals on the counter attack.

I spent most of the time on the Coach trip to the game following the Irish League chatter on Twitter and the majority of the folks except Crues and Ballymena fans were on the side of Coleraine. Even those apparently in the know from The Social Club N.I were favouring a Coleraine win, except for Chris Holt who had the game going to extra time and penalties.

When we got to the Showgrounds, we had a good half an hour to get settled in before kick off. As we approached the turnstiles Norngirl lent her scarf to one of Crusaders' most famous fans to have her photo taken by a press photographer. Most people know one another at the Crues, we're a tight knit bunch of supporters. We entered through the turnstiles after being politely searched by the security staff. The preparations were already in place. The cameras from the BBC were loitering overhead.

BBC camera at the Ballymena Showgrounds

At pitch level, the balloons for the pre game build up were ready and waiting to be taken onto the pitch.

Coleraine and Crusaders Balloons

We made our way along the below pitch level walk way to the home stand where the Crues fans were being housed for this game.

Before we made our way into the stand there was just time to get some chips which cost £2.50 but were very nice chips and the choice of sauces was excellent... I went all out with a combo of Chilli sauce and Tomato sauce.

Chips at the Ballymena Showgrounds

Food eaten and programme bought. It was time to head into the stand. I have to admit, I'd only ever been in the away stand before at the Ballymena Showgrounds, so this was a novel occasion. The Showgrounds doesn't usually host cup finals but this was a great placement for the League Cup final, a much better choice than the usual location - Linfield's Windsor Park. At the Showgrounds we were as close to half way between North Belfast and Coleraine as you can get. Not only that but at the Ballymena Showgrounds, both sets of fans can be close to the action and not stuck in the cramped seats in Windsor's South Stand or the very distant dead-zone of the North Stand. Neither giving a great view for the fans or helping create a good atmosphere. Here in Ballymena we had a great view as I know the Coleraine fans would have had too. The stadium didn't feel half empty as it does for a final at Windsor.

IrnBru Irish League Cup Balloons

We picked some seats close to the half way line behind the dugouts. First of all came the introductions and the sides lined up.

Crusaders FC Line-up

From left to right; Colin Coates, Sean O'Neill, Jordan Owens, Gareth McKeown, Stuart Dallas, Paul Leeman, Chris Morrow, Aidan Watson, Stephen McBride, David McMaster, David Rainey and subs for the day; Michael Halliday, Ryan McCann, Declan Caddell, David Magowan and Matthew Snoddy.

The game was moments away and the balloons were released into the air.

Balloons released into the sky.

Balloons in front of the Floodlights

As the balloons drifted past the floodlights it sunk in that it was about to begin, 90 minutes that could mean the difference between guaranteed success for the season or another near miss, between happiness or sadness, a piece of history to remember fondly or a day to forget. We knew we'd be OK win or lose as long as the team put in the effort we know they can and they tried their best. As anyone who has spent much time down at Seaview will know, the place has it's moments where it does feel like a family, or somewhat like being in the bar in the TV series Cheers - for we mightn't have had the 'out of the woodwork' support Coleraine had in attendance on the day... on that note here is the temporary stand that was put up to accommodate the extra demand:

Temporary stand at the Ballymena Showgrounds

... but win, lose or draw, if you try your best, you'll get our support through thick or thin (well except the odd grumpy moaner but you're always going to get a few of those at any football club).

As it turned out, the Crues side put out there by Stephen Baxter really did put in that effort we hoped they would.

Crusaders take on Coleraine at Ballymena

The game started cagey but it wasn't long before the experience of the big occasion began to show and the guys in red and black were pushing forward and keeping the Coleraine players pinned back in their own half. Stuart Dallas went close with an attempted lob that went just wide. As always in cup finals you know every last chance really matters so when shortly after Chris Morrow got the ball at the edge of the box and hit a shot that bounced off the grass and hit the arm of the defender diving to clear the ball. A penalty wasn't given, at that point you start to wonder if it's your day. Well Chris Morrow had the answer on 34 minutes. A ball slipped through to him from Stuart Dallas had him clear through 1 on 1 with the keeper. He tucked it away into the back of the net and we lept from our seats.

After the goal, the half seemed to fly by. There were a few chances for either team but both keepers were equal to the chances made and bar the odd unexplainable throw in decision (both for and against us) there was nothing more of note from the half.

The whistle went and we were treated to the half time entertainment led by the day's announcer who I think is a local DJ? From where we were sitting he reminded us of John Culshaw playing the part of Gok Wan (It was the hairstyle).

The half time competition was to hit the crossbar from the edge of the D and the winners were to win themselves tickets to Northern Ireland Vs Norway. It was a good fun watching it, there was just one winner (which is odd given how many competitors Coleraine seemed to line up) and that winner was a wee boy supporting Crusaders who understanably was allowed to take the shot from a bit closer. His shot looped into the air and whacked the top of the bar. Shortly after the kid had managed it, for the Coleraine supporters, up stepped non-other than James from Derry of TV's Young Apprentice fame. The announcer had the wee Crues fan try to give him some advice for his shot but unfortunatley for James, the only advice was 'Hit the Crossbar', alas James didn't.

That all helped half time seem to pass very quickly and it wasn't long before Colin Coates led the Crues back onto the pitch and they were shortly followed by a Coleraine side who looked to be revved up for the 2nd half, it must have been some team talk from their manager.

The Bansiders put some good pressure on the Crues goal in the early stages of the half, a string of 3 or 4 corners in quick succession and the odd free kick and long shot, but Crusaders' back 4 held firm, as did Sean O'Neill when he needed to from another Johnny Black freekick. The Crues weathered the early pressure and from then on in, barring a rare shot from nothing, we never really looked like conceding.

Indeed it was the Coleraine goal that came under the most pressure, Jordan Owens hitting the post with one shot and having a tap in disallowed for offside.

The press watch on as Coleraine and the Crues play on.

1 goal was thankfully enough and after a few last minute long balls had been cleared and the final whistle blew, Crusaders FC had become 2011/12 Irn-Bru League Cup Champions.

In a break from tradition (by all accounts to accomodate the TV schedule), the lifting of the trophy and celebration came before the awarding of the runners up medals and interviews were happing all over the pitch.

Colin Coates and Chris Morrow interviewed

It was a little confusing but it was a great moment to see Colin Coates lift, high up into the air, the clubs 3rd domestic trophy in 4 years. A mixture of paper confetti, Irn-Bru, and Champaign setting the scene of the celebration.

Crues lift the Irish League Cup

Amongst the party there was also the same courtousy awarded to the Coleraine players as you'd see at the end of an Ice Hockey match - as the stand of happy Crues fans joined the die hard Coleraine supporters who had stayed behind in clapping the opposition whilst they got their medals and headed off the pitch.

The cup win meant a lot to me, it meant delight at the time and it meant being ever so proud of our club from the Shore Road. It obviously means a lot to the players too as they spent a lot of time after the game celebrating with their families and the rest of the supporters.

Winning is what any football team in the world aims to do and on this day, the Crues picked up a piece of Silverwear that will sit produly in the trophy cabinate at Seaview for at least a year.
Something that will last longer than a year will be the fond memories of the day that each and everyone involved - players, officials and supporters, now have to add to those other cup wins already stored away.

Irish League Cup Celebrations

And brimming with the great feeling that comes with a Cup win, the supporters coaches all headed back to Seaview to start the celebrations.

Before too long the players coach made it back to Seaview and the fans lined the street, cheering the team and the cup into the social club.

Though the final itself wasn't a classic for the neutral, the result was a brilliant one for everyone involved with Crusaders FC like me and it's another memory that I doubt I'll forget. Irn Bru did a great job as sponsors as did Coleraine in not only brining such a great support to the game but their sponsors even putting up that temporary stand for the game to accomodate more fans.

So before I finish this post, I'd just like to say a big thank you to everyone involved and a special thanks to our Manager Stephen Baxter and all the players who did us proud. I had a brilliant day and it has already made my season.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Movie Review - Role Models (2008)

Film: Role Models (2008)

From arguments over the stupid names of coffee cup sizes to Jane Lynch playing a character who must have been the predecessor to the Sue Slyvester in Glee. Not to mention a set of rules to put the inflatable weaponry from our wedding to good use, this movie had loads going on. Unexpectedly I should add, I thought Role Models was great, I'm kinda sad I didn't see it at the cinema.

The laughs were regular and spread well throughout the movie. The humour was rude in places but never fell to being too crude even with a few topless scenes ("a bit 'blue for the dads" as Peter Kay would say) and some strong language in places.

Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd's characters were surprisingly likeable and the rest of the cast were great, most noteably Christopher Mintz-Plasse who played one of the kids needing a big and another performance of note from Ken Jeong (of 'The Hangover' fame) who was King in a world of pretend. The cast was very well balanced and there wasn't just the usual one or two stand out acts like you get in some films of this ilk.

The story I didn't see coming as it started off like a teen movie but transitioned in a lot of ways into a feel good film with an whimsical edge. I find it hard to put this movie in any one category and that in a film is something that I like! It was certainly a comedy but it was also part rom com, part teen movie, part bromance - not a combination I thought would go well but you know what, it worked.

You can't go wrong with plenty of laughs and this had many. Nothing thought provoking here, just comedy in a mashup. So for that; Role Models on the good old L.I.N.I.M.R arbitrary 'out of 10', gets a very respectable...

Score: 7/10

Per the The A.L.I.N.I Movie Review rating scale:
7 = Good movie, would watch again. T'was good!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Movie Review - Fools Rush In (1997)

Film: Fools Rush In (1997)

Those Fools Rushed In so quickly that they ended up stuck in the plot of a romantic comedy... those silly fools!

In this movie, a couple who get together randomly find that their cultural backgrounds collide when they take things further but they are helped to overcome it by the power of a seemingly sentient universe with a master plan convieniently kicking them in the right direction to keep the plot going (a master plan from a divine overseer who happens to like the tired old rom com formula *insert nausia*) and pre-destined 'true love' with some added rain in the desert to top things off.

As far as rom coms go it was pretty good: Some of the acting in the big dramatic scenes wasn't the most convincing but there were a fair few good comedy moments and it used the screen well, fitting in smoothly some big scenes of NYC, The Grand Canyon and Las Vegas with the character close ups and dialogue.

The dialogue wasn't too bad and the main characters were more 3 dimensional than the usual rom com though some of the support characters did seem a little bit void of more than one emotion.

The movie starred Matthew Perry of Friends fame and his character wasn't that far removed from the one he played in friends and he played it very well even if you could be forgiven to think Mr Bing had just changed his name and taken a new job.

To be honest, though it was pretty much just candyfloss, it kept my attention and I did laugh out loud and would go so far as to say that I enjoyed it.

However, that was about it, the only thing it left me pondering was how much spare cash do these characters have to spend on travel and how convienient that, as in so many rom coms, one of the characters is usually pretty well off or from a crazily wealthy family and they manage to fit a helicopter into the plot. Is it just because they always have one on hand to shoot the movie with anyway or do they go out of their way for these things?

It was far from anything special but never the less it was worth the watch on TV on a Saturday without football.

Score: 6/10

Per the The A.L.I.N.I Movie Review rating scale:
6 = Decent, I won't be in a hurry to watch it again but if it's on TV... well worth the price of free!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A Reminder of the Movies

Please don't hate me.

With the 20+ movies I've never seen that I intend to see in 2012 as announced in my 2012 list, I've decided to record what I think of them as I watch them. That means I'm going to *cough* review them.

So welcome to a randomly strung out string of posts scattered between all the other stuff that will be imaginatively called...

A Lifeform In Northern Ireland's Movie Reviews

I hear the groans and I do understand, but don't worry! I sincerely don't aim to fall into the trap of actually knowing what I'm talking about even if I might vaguely seem like I might - I just intend to tell it how I sees it. Literally.

But no review is complete without an arbitrary score and my reviews will be no different. A score out of 10 will be awarded gauged on the following criteria.

The A.L.I.N.I Movie rating scale.

10 - Frickin awesome, classic and a half and probably another half or 10 halves, *ARMS OF YAY*!
9 - Excellent - a real classic - lets hope it's re-realsed at the cinema coz our TV is too tiny. w0Ot!
8 - Very good film, recommended and remind me to buy DeVidDeo if I haven't already.
7 - Good movie, would watch again. T'was good!
6 - Decent, I won't be in a hurry to watch it again but if it's on TV... well worth the price of free!
5 - OK, not that memorable but entertaining never the less. Just Meh.
4 - Could have probably done without watching it - not quite Meh - I suppose that makes it just Eh?
3 - All the good bits were in the trailer,  I mean really, why did we bother?
2 - A great goldfish movie - best if you've a limited memory because it was just bad - and not in a good way.
1 - Time I will never get back - why did they steal a part of my life?

Since Norngirl and I have already watched 5 movies this year that we had never seen before and it's not even the end of January, I figure this might be a good time to start to record these. And so without further delay, well, except a day or so - you know, to give anyone who wants to the time to read this in order to maintain some sort of structure to this blog given this new low - let there be movie/film/flicks/fil'um (that last one is the local pronunciation) reviewablige!

I hereby give this post 10/10 and some serious cinematic arms of yay because it's all downhill from this point in :-D

First up is - The Rom Com: Fools Rush In (1997), well, it is as soon as I make a picture in paint that truly reflects the ambience of this piece. So turn off your cell phones and re-seal that re-seal-able bag you have no intent to ever re-seal... it'll be on your screen before you can scream "Nooooooooooooooooooooo" give or take 200,000 'o's.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Sweeping Over at Christmas

Oh hai! Thanks for coming to see us. You all seem a friendly bunch, join us for a moment if you like whilst I stare off into the middle distance and daydream for a few moments...

*insert a twinkly transition to a dreamy day dream scene*

Ah, Christmas, 2 days off work and the joys of the festive season. What a nice time it is.
A funny old Christmas though. It all started when we packed our bags when - lucky for us but unlucky for Norngirl's mum - Sweep had stowed away to join us in our holiday sleep over.
Luckily for Sweep, Norngirl's sister had prepared for his arrival and had knitted him a festive woolly hat!

Isn't he cute, with his little buttoned hat. Sweep squeaked out in happiness when he saw it.

It wasn't long before it was time for bed, even Dogs that squeak need to be asleep before Santa breaks in. Sweep could hardly sleep and watched on as the family drifted into the world of nod.

Unfortunately, that night Norngirl and I couldn't sleep very well on a strange mattress, we'd been too spoilt by having memory foam at home. Sweep wished his head was made of memory foam, he started to imagine what shapes he could mould himself into to escape Soo's wrath.

Before they knew it though, Christmas morning had arrived, well, a brand new car in the street had but it was only 5am. Me, Sweep and Norngirl were all very pleased that the happy people were happy but they were so noisy that the whole world must have known about it and at 5am on Christmas morning... really, just nooooooo.

Eventually we managed to get a little bit of rest and before we knew it the day had begun properly.

Sweep was very happy to find he'd been given some presents to open too and joined in with the rest of the family.

From paper plane books to film lens mugs... all sorts of weird and wonderful things were emerging from the bright and colourful wrapping paper.

Oh what fun!

But the best was yet to come as one box was opened to reveal a surprise of epic magnitude, so awesome that Sweep almost let out a little bit of wee.


This Lifeform and his Sweep Clone now had a Sooty Clone too! Does that make me Soo? I hope not.

As with each Christmas, a lot of hard work goes into the preparations but undeterred, Sooty and Sweep gave me and Norngirl a hand in the kitchen preparing the vegetables for their Christmas dinner.

Sweep found the biggest stainless steel blade he'd seen since he discovered the wounded body of annoying little cousin Scampi clone who had been run through with a sword by the clone of Snuffles the rabbit. The poor rabbit, she might have had an appetite but even she couldn't stomach Little Cousin Scampi. Talking of Snuffles, she'll be due for release soon, I hope she visits!

Oh what fun it was to chop carrots on Christmas day.

Sweep couldn't keep chopping for ever though and there were so very many carrots and parsnips.

So he handed over to Sooty for a turn, who with a tap of his magical wand - which he keeps in his secret magic pocket for special occasions I must add - he had chopped the lot.

We were very impressed!

It wasn't long before the food was being put in the oven and the happy pair of puppets were enjoying watching their human friends enjoying their Christmas dinner.

After some TV, drinks and watching the Dr Who Christmas Special it was time to relax for the evening and Sooty and Sweep fell asleep after all their hard work.

Norngirl and I stayed up and wondered how bad the nights TV viewing had got on Christmas day. Thankfully the wine is always good and we had a very nice time chatting with our family and watching random stuff on TV before heading to bed for a relatively early night so that we could get up to help out at the football match the next day in which our team were victorious!

*Fade back into reality... wakey wakey*

I guess I best get back to reality. Is it Christmas yet?

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The 2012 list

Time again to re-focus and Sweep away the past with a shiny future.

The 2012 List Modelled by Sweep

Yes I will be 28 this year. Anyways, in 2012 (other than things already in hand) I'm going to attempt to:

  • Stay alive (so far so good)
  • Read 1 whole actual, real, in paper, page turning, proper book (seriously that number isn't a typo, I read a grand total of 0 books in 2011)
  • Try to find/get/make a job I would enjoy doing (a long shot but it won't happen unless I try).
  • Try again at learning to separate the stress of work from home (if possible).
  • Follow 1 Olympic 2012 sport ├╝ber religiously. Has to be a sport that I honestly don't care about right now. For no reason whatsoever really except for a bit of fun. If anyone would like to join me feel free to volunteer and suggest the sport.
  • Don't allow Clothes Mountain (the pile of washing in our bedroom) to rear its volumous crumpled head again.
  • Not get my hopes up with Euro 2012.
  • Make at least a small positive difference to something worthwhile.
  • Risk it for a chocolate biscuit and do a few more things on the spur of the moment and procrastinate less

Finances allowing:
  • Visit 5 cities/major towns that I have never been to before.
  • Visit 1 new country.
  • Visit my family at least twice.
  • Attend 3 or more comedy gigs
  • Attend at least 10 ice hockey matches.
  • Watch 20 films I've never seen before
  • Don't leave the entirety of Christmas shopping until December.
  • Possibly move house.

  • Spend even less time playing games on the net.
  • Do a spring clean of my Google Reader.
  • Spend more time commenting on the blogs I enjoy reading.
  • Spend less time pointlessly commenting on political blogs where everyone has their minds made up anyway no matter what you say.
  • Find at least 3 new blogs to follow properly - like I would those on my blog list to the bottom left of this page (if you're reading this and have any good suggestions please do add them in the comments)
  • Be more sociable (if it's not going to make my brain hurt)
  • Take even more photos.

Disclaimer section of the 2012 list:
  • Try to do all this whilst not injuring Norngirl mentally or physically (she can be judge and jury at the end of the year).

Thanks to posts elsewhere for the reminder to make the list, specifically fellow bloggers Katie, Kate and Jean who made their own. I almost forgot and it's almost mid January!

Ok, 1 more addition to the list.
  • Try to remember things.

Friday, 6 January 2012

The Giant's Causeway in Winter

Back in early December we had family over and so treated them to a guided Bus Tour of the North Antrim Coast to take in the scenery and to visit the Giants Causeway.

Giants Causeway Stones

The tour we ended up choosing was an Allen's Causeway Tour. We went on a Sunday, it was a day tour and the guide was excellent though the coach could have done with a bit of modernisation. Oddly we got pretty much every weather you can think of during the trip (well, except for fog), thankfully most of it we could just watch through the window. Overall it was very good and well worth the web fare of £16.

However, as good as the tour was, with this post I'm just going to stick with the Giant's Causeway as I took some photos at the time which I intended to share with you all but never got the chance to what with the family visits, Christmas, New Years and all that jazz. So here goes...

Despite the traditional hoarding of food at the stop in Carnlough, we were hungry when we arrived at the Causeway visitor centre. So from the coach we headed to a pub called the Nook.

The Nook Pub at the Giants Causeway

The food and drink was a little pricer than your average in N.I but it is in the middle of no where, at the entrance of one of the worlds famous natural features. Warmed by the open fireplace, a good pint and some soup we headed on out and made our way down to the Causeway on foot.

The views along the 10 minute walk down to the causeway were great as ever. Even in the cold and with the rain clouds looming, this part of the North Antrim coastline is captivating.

County Antrim Coastline Panorama

As spectacular as the Causeway itself is, I do like the walk down.

The County Antrim Coastline near the Giants Causeway

County Antrim Coast

We tend to get the bus back up though, especially as in the end we were in a bit of a hurry to get back to the coach on time.

We did eventually make it down to the Giants Causeway.

Giants Causeway Panorama

And even in the crazy wind, we still had to clamber on the stones and look out to sea and across to the 'Organ' from our vantage point though it was easier said than done when fighting against a gale.

View from the Giants Causeway

The sea was pretty rough with some rather impressive waves hitting the headland and indeed the splash zone of the Causeway.

View of the Giants Causeway

And this was creating quite a bit of foam that was then blowing across the Causeway like giant snow. Can't beat a bit of seaspray, clears out the pores... or so I'm told *cough*.

Wandering the Giants Causeway

But when in Rome! Sadly these are not pictures of us... just people as nuts as us.

Tourists taking photos on the Giants Causeway

I do love being at the Giants Causeway. It's maybe not as spectacular or unique as the tourist board might make it out to be on TV but it is a pretty awesome place and I can now say well worth a visit even if the weather is lousy. For in winter the experience is different but just as fun as it is in summer... it just means a few more layers of clothing and being extra careful on the rocks.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Crusaders FC: A 2011/12 Season Half Time Report.

It is January 2012 and that means we are mid-way through the football season in the IFA Premiership (The top flight of Irish League football) and as always, this is where the roller-coaster ride for supporters gathers pace. If you have checked the league table recently, you may have noticed that the team I support - Crusaders FC, haven't reached the heights of their potential in the league this year, but not to worry, following the Crues is never dull and there is still very much to play for.

Seaview Home of Crusaders FC

Back in August my hopes were high that the Crues would push towards giving Linfield a run for their money at the top of the league this season. Unfortunately, we just haven't been able to set the league alight this time around; be it improved opposition, players not clicking as well as last season or, as on a few occasions, just sods law and plain old bad luck. This is football, these things happen. As it is, and as many predicted, it's looking quite likely now that a Linfield side playing steady but unexciting football and not performing as well as their fans would expect, will win the league. As the season progresses and other sides start to pick up the inevitable fatigue and injuries to key players, Linfield's strength in depth will very likely pull them increasingly quickly towards yet another Gibson Cup, I hope it doesn't happen but it's likely it will. Fine for those who can afford it.

So for Crusaders, who were sitting in 6th place in a 12 team league at Christmas and 5th after the New Years games,it might seem like there wasn't much left to play for... That isn't the case - indeed it's very much the opposite, there is still very much to play for, including plenty of silverware.

Thanks to plenty of hard work and a bit of luck, the club sits in the best position it has done off the pitch for over a decade, with great facilities and a continued drive to sort out the finances once and for all - though obviously there is still much work to be done as there is at many Irish League clubs. On the pitch, although not in the form we got used to seeing the team last season, the side can still beat anyone on their day - as the recent games against high flying Cliftonville and Portadown have reminded us. We're perhaps a few too many points out of touch of the leaders but the season can still be a huge success. The good news is that there are still 3 cup competitions to play for and in the league there are still places in the qualifying rounds of European football to try and secure. Beyond that, there is also a good chance of more North Belfast derbies. The media might currently focus heavily on the 'Belclasico' between Linfield and Glentoran but if you want passion and goals it's to North Belfast you should head.

So what are Crusaders chances of staying above those behind us and catching any of the 4 above to be in with a chance of a European qualifying place?

First thing's first - the split. This is where after 33 games, the Irish League splits into two sections. The top 6 and the bottom 6 then play each of the teams in their section once more to complete the last 5 games and the 38 game league season.

The way things have gone so far it seems almost like the league has split in two, with any of the top 6 capable of beating each other on their day and the remaining 6 sides being much less likely to get a result against the top 6 but all are capable of a surprise on their day. The only perceivable changes before the split would be if, against current form, Donegal Celtic or Ballymena suddenly started to pick up a freakish run of results to reel between an 8 to 12 point gap and were able to catch Glentoran, Crusaders or Coleraine. However, given both DC and Ballymena's string of fixtures (each play against current top half sides in 6 of their remaining games) and the potential of the sides they would have to catch, I'd say it was very likely that the top 6 now will be the top 6 at the spilt.

Hopefully that is the case and the Crues will end the regular season on a high. Securing a better placed finish in the league will be a tricky task – finishing the season in front of Glentoran and Coleraine this year would be a good achievement given some of the results from the first half of the season. Like the Crues, the Glens haven't been playing their best. Indeed Glentoran have probably been the worst of the top 6 so it's likely that Scott Young will try to strengthen in the current transfer window. Coleraine have improved a lot from last season as most expected they would with the players brought in. The thing being, Coleraine have been playing well for good spells of the season, as have Cliftonville, the question is can these sides get a second wind given that their runs of good form were contributed to by players like Leon Knight for Coleraine looking likely to move on and Rory Donnelly for Cliftonville having signed for Swansea. It's likely they can, but without these potential match winners, if adequate replacements aren't brought in to help turn tight games, it could potentially open things up a little more over the course of the rest of the season.

A little bit of quality in the Irish League can make all the difference. That quality up front is what Portadown have largely depended on so far this season and they are somewhat surprisingly the most consistent challengers to Linfield in the first 5 months. The issue being, with such dependency on their forwards Matthew Tipton and Kevin Braniff for the goals, it seems a fine line to tread, great if they stay fit but there is a lot of season left.

What I'm trying to say is that the potential is there for the Crues; the door may just be left open enough to get through. The quality to put a run or two together is in the squad and we're still in touching distance of those above even whilst not playing as well as a team as we know this very same side can. I think a higher placed finish than 6th or 5th is a real possibility because the team will click as before, it's just a matter of time and circumstance. The confidence is coming back :)

Colin Coates jumps to win the ball

Currently the Crues are a point behind Coleraine so 4th is all to play for but 4th doesn't guarantee a Europa League Qualifying tie. The big prize would be 2nd or 3rd. Portadown are 2nd and 9 points ahead of the Crues and Cliftonville 3rd and 8 points ahead. It's technically out of our hands and it'll be hard given that the sides around us will also be trying to do the same, but with little to lose in the league and a bit of momentum in our favour at the moment, it'll be intriguing to see how it pans out over the next few months.

The league aside, there is still a decent chance of silverware in the cup competitions.

The 1st is the IRN-BRU League Cup. After winning a tight game against Ballymena back in December, The Crues booked their place in the final and will face Coleraine at the Ballymena Showgrounds for the chance to lift the trophy. The game is on Saturday January 28th at 2.30pm. The atmosphere on a cup final day with the Crues involved is always electric, fingers crossed for a good result but it should be a great away day.

The 2nd is the Irish Cup. For the Crues it begins on Saturday 14th with a home tie against Warrenpoint.

Last but not least is the All Ireland Setanta Cup that kicks off for the Crues in March.

With all that to look forward to it's easy to forget some of the action that has already happened this season. The highs and lows.

The biggest disappointment of the season so far for me was probably the Donegal Celtic game at Seaview that was live on Sky TV. We had gone one nil up in that game but after that it was just one of those days which somehow depressingly ended with a 1-2 loss.

The highlight of the season so far has to be Timmy Adamson's goal against Fulham and the very recent 3-2 win over our local rivals Cliftonville on boxing day. Both will live long in the memory. Our most important signing of the season so far has to be Sean O'Neill, a better goalkeeper I don't think we've had in our goal since Neil Armstrong.

Sean O'Neill Crusaders FC Goalkeeper

Off the pitch, I'm in love with our two new end stands. When I think of a football ground seat I think of my knees pressed up against the chair in front. However, not at the ends at Seaview. There is no uncomfortable kneecap scraping, quite the opposite, it's leg room heaven. I'm 6ft tall and have relatively long legs. I can happily say that the seats, as well as having a great view, give a brilliant amount of leg room - I can slouch all I like! Compared to the numerous English grounds I've been to, I imagine it'd be like getting an upgrade on a plane. They're just awesome seats for 'real sized' people.

Undoubtedly there will be more highs and lows to come, hopefully more highs than lows, but as long as the team give their all we won't be disappointed, no matter how the season pans out.

I'll try to post more about the Crues and Irish league football this year but if you'd like to follow the action yourself from afar, here are a few Crusaders FC related links:

Crusaders FC Official Website
Crusaders FC Official Twitter page
Crusaders FC Official Facebook page


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