Lurgan skipper Stephen Johnston up for the battle with Waringstown

Stephen Johnston
Stephen Johnston

Lurgan might have resigned themselves to a season without playing the big boys following their relegation from the NCU Premier League last season.

But a comfortable victory over top-flight Ballymena in the first round of the Challenge Cup and the subsequent quarter-final draw has handed Stephen Johnston’s team an unexpected bonus.

They have been handed plum tie at home to derby rivals and cup holders Waringstown on Saturday.

Many pundits will be writing off the Pollock Park club’s hopes of springing an upset and indeed Johnston claims the sense of complacency has even extended to some in the Waringstown ranks.

“If somehow we managed to win, it would be one of the biggest upsets in years,” said Johnston.

“It was good to find some form by beating Carrick last week and we are going into the Waringstown game to enjoy it and prove a few people wrong.

“I know Waringstown are probably the best team in the NCU and we have to be realistic about our chances.

“But I know Waringstown ones have been talking like the game is already over. I’ve heard reports about that, I’m not going to say who, but if we needed any more motivation to pull off one of the biggest upset in years then it’s hearing about people talking like that.”

Lurgan-Waringstown games have been feisty affairs going back generations, and you might assume that James McCollum, who made the move from Pollock Park to The Lawn over the winter, will be in the firing line against his old club tomorrow.

But Johnston, an articulate and considered talker off the field, but a fierce and vocal competitor on it, says he for one will not be sledging his former team-mate.

However, Johnston maintains the Ireland under-19 captain should not have gone to The Lawn.

“I like James and he is a good young lad. But while I fully understand why he had to go to the Premier League I don’t know why he went to Waringstown,” Johnston said.

“I feel he should be looking to bat in the top four or five every week and he wasn’t going to get that at Waringstown.

“I know they are doing a bit of a rotation between him and Adam (Dennison) and James might open the batting on Saturday.

“I hope James doesn’t get any runs against us but I would like to see him do well against other clubs.

“I won’t be giving him any abuse, I would like to see him do well for Waringstown, no-one at Lurgan has anything against him and you like to see your own go on and do well.”

Paul Stafford, the veteran of so many Lurgan-Waringstown derbies, is back in the team and Johnston hopes that former Ireland international Neil Anderson will be available.

Lurgan have had a mixed season so far, defeats to Derriaghy and Templepatrick the lows, but their promotion credentials were underlined by Saturday’s win over Carrick.

“As bad as we bowled and fielded against Templepatrick we were excellent against Carrick.

“The team spirit was brilliant and I was really proud of the lads. Now we have nothing to lose against Waringstown,” he added.

“We will go out there and give it our best shot and see where it takes us. But we can’t wait for the game.”

Instonians entertain CIYMS at Shaw’s Bridge with the other Section one survivors Downpatrick facing Muckamore.