Crusaders can seize opportunity to clip Magpies’ wings in Europa Conference League qualifiers, says Johnny McMurray

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It may only have been 43 days since Johnny McMurray scored an invaluable game-winning goal to help the Crusaders lift the Irish Cup, but the big striker already has his sights set on Europa Conference League glory.

he 27-year-old broke Ballymena United’s heart at Windsor Park on May 7, scoring with virtually the final kick at the end of extra time.

It was the last twist of an amazing afternoon. United had led from the ninth minute thanks to Robbie Weir’s clumsy own goal.

With just 60 seconds remaining in four extra minutes, defender Josh Robinson managed to equalize after goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey joined his forwards in kicking in a Paul Heatley corner.

It was left to McMurray to complete the job.

Now, with FC Bruno’s Magpies from Gibraltar, McMurray thinks it’s a great chance for his side to progress and set up a showdown with top Swiss side Basel in the next round.

“It’s a good draw for us,” said McMurray.

“We don’t know much about them, but the boss (Stephen Baxter) will do his homework, there’s no doubt.

“To be honest, I’ve never even heard of it, but they qualified for Europe, so that tells us everything we need to know. It will be good to go, even if it will be very hot in this time of year. I don’t mind.

“Hopefully we’ll have the chance to acclimatize to the conditions before the game.

“If we were successful it would be a massive draw against Basel, they are such a big club. Not so long ago they were in the Champions League group stages, playing Liverpool.

“That’s what’s great about playing in Europe, coming up against teams of this caliber.

“It’s a great way to start the season. I always relish European games because it brings you back earlier and it means you are really in good shape for the start of the domestic season. Your gaming acumen is there.

McMurray admits the celebrations went on for a while after that epic Cup win.

“We enjoyed the celebrations, we spent a few days on the fizz, it was super craic,” he laughs.

“When I replayed the match I hadn’t realized Ballymena were so dominant, they were by far the better side for long periods of the game.

“It was tough for them, but it was great for us. We kept going until the end, other teams could have lowered their heads.

“That’s what’s good about this Crusaders team. We have people who can score goals in different areas, we just don’t rely on strikers.

“Josh appeared deep in injury time, had a little knock at the back post, that was invaluable. I certainly wasn’t counting on Jonny being up there to give a corner kick.

Crues boss Baxter has already been busy in the summer transfer market, signing 27-year-old striker Dean Ebbe from Welsh side Bala Town, but goalkeeper Sean O’Neill has moved to Ballymena United on a permanent basis after a successful loan spell at the end of last season.

“Dean’s arrival means there will be fierce competition for places, which is good,” McMurray continued. “He’s going to give us options.

“The more competition the better, that’s what everyone wants, especially the manager. It helps keep everyone on their toes, it means you have to raise your levels if they want to. keep the shirt.

“Losing Sean is a big blow. I didn’t know he was gone until Thursday night. He’s a great guy and we will miss him in the locker room. He was just one of those characters, he was exciting everyone before games, people like that are hard to find.

“But he just wants to play games and Ballymena United can give him that opportunity, good luck to him.”


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