Chris Hegarty loving life at Crusaders with Paddy McLaughlin keen to build on bright Cliftonville start

Chris Hegarty (right) celebrates scoring on his Crusaders debut. Pic by INPHO.
Chris Hegarty (right) celebrates scoring on his Crusaders debut. Pic by INPHO.

Chris Hegarty counts the combination of a community atmosphere and competitive ambition key to his strong start in Crusaders colours.

Highlights across the opening months following a summer switch to Seaview from Dungannon Swifts include a debut goal and facing Premier League Wolves in Europe, alongside early domestic progress.

However, as Hegarty aims to experience a first taste of a derby date away to Cliftonville, he considers the small moments as crucial to a smooth transition as the highlights reel.

“I’ve really found there to be a family feel around the club, with the players making me feel so welcome but that extending out to people around the club and the fans,” said Hegarty, a former Rangers player. “They have that drive to push forward but built on an atmosphere which has made everything so easy for me, in terms of settling in.

“I worked hard ahead of making the move to Crusaders knowing I wanted to give myself the best chance for a smooth adjustment and it has been great to come in and find a club with so much quality but without ego.

“Our whole schedule of training, gym work and meals together is designed to give each individual the best opportunity to improve and that is something I really appreciate.

“I’m lucky to have an understanding boss in my day job at Cuba Clothing in Dungannon, which obviously helps with the time commitments, but everything about Crusaders is geared to giving you that chance to push forward.

“I’m really enjoying that side of it all and feeling fit and sharp, plus having the European commitments also helped me settle in quickly as immediately you are spending a lot of time together.

“Any pressure is not about a rivalry to retain your place over someone else, it’s about everyone working together to help the club.”

Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin admits early encouragement from his players’ efforts to juggle the European commitments with close-season hard yards.

An unbeaten start, courtesy of an away point at Coleraine and midweek home triumph over Glenavon, offers the Reds a platform on which to build.

McLaughlin’s first summer in the Solitude hot-seat featured challenges home and away thanks to European fixtures alongside domestic duty.

“It is a credit to the players how they have bought into everything but that has been the case since I arrived at the club,” said McLaughlin. “The new signings have settled in quickly but that comes down to a good changing room and I always knew it would require a major overhaul, rather a few small things.

“With that in mind, I’ve been really pleased with the hard work by the players over some tough pre-season games and the European schedule.

“You always have to manage the situation to avoid any injuries, so rest and recovery both become extremely important and that, again is thanks to the players’ dedication.

“We are delighted with the points accumulated over the first two league games but it is so early in the season still and know a derby with Crusaders stands as a massive game when we will be tested to the maximum.”