It’s only been 43 days since Johnny McMurray scored the priceless game-winner to help the Crusaders win the Irish Cup, but the big striker is already aiming for European Conference League glory.
The 27-year-old broke Ballymena United’s hearts at Windsor Park on May 7 by scoring a close-to-last shot late in extra time.
It was the last twist of an amazing day. United were in the lead from the ninth minute thanks to a clumsy own goal by Robbie Weir.
With just 60 seconds remaining in four minutes of added play, defender Josh Robinson managed to equalize after goaltender Johnny Taffy joined his attackers to take Paul Heatley’s corner kick.
McMurray had to finish the job.
Now with Bruno’s Magpies in Gibraltar, McMurray thinks his team has a great chance to move forward and set up a showdown against top Swiss club Basel in the next round.
“It’s a good draw for us,” McMurray says.
“We know very little about them, but the boss (Stephen Baxter) will do his homework, there is no doubt about that.
“Honestly, I’ve never even heard of them, but they qualified for Europe, so that tells us everything we need to know. It will be good to go out there, although it will be very hot at this time of the year. I’m not against it.
“Hopefully we will have the opportunity to acclimatize to the pre-game conditions.
“If we win it will be a huge draw against Basel, they are such a big club. Not so long ago, they played in the group stage of the Champions League, playing against Liverpool.
“That’s what’s great about playing in Europe against teams of this caliber.
“This is a great way to start the season. I always enjoy European games because they bring you back earlier and mean you’re really ready for the start of the domestic season. Your game edge is here.”
McMurray acknowledges that the celebration continued for some time after that epic Cup win.
“We loved the celebration, we spent a few days at the pop, it was great,” he laughs.
“When I replayed the game, I didn’t realize the Ballymena were so dominant, they were so much better for long periods of play.
“It was hard for them, but it was great for us. We went all the way to the end, the other teams might have lowered their heads.
“That’s what’s good about this Crusaders team. We have people who can score goals from different areas, we just don’t rely on strikers.
“Josh came out in injury time, got a little shot at the back post, it was priceless. I certainly didn’t expect Johnny to be there to take the corner.”
Cruz boss Baxter was already busy in the summer transfer market, buying 27-year-old striker Dean Ebbe from Welsh club Bala Town, but goalkeeper Sean O’Neill has moved to Ballymena United on a permanent basis after a successful loan spell at Ballymena United “. end of last season.
“Dean’s arrival means there will be fierce competition for seats, which is a good thing,” McMurray continues. “He will give us options.
“The more competition, the better, everyone wants it, especially the manager. This helps keep everyone on their toes, meaning you need to level up if they want to keep the shirt.
“Losing Sean is a blow. I didn’t know he left until Thursday evening. He’s a great guy and will be missed in the locker room. He was just one of those characters, he pumps everyone up before the 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.”