Aaron Johnston relishing Cregagh’s cup clash with CSNI

Andre Malan will not feature in the game.
Andre Malan will not feature in the game.

Cregagh are preparing themselves for a massive weekend with three cup matches in as many days.

The highlight will be Saturday’s Gallagher Challenge Cup quarter-final clash at home to Premier League side CSNI, who will be without professional Andre Malan after Cregagh opted for the overseas professional not to play in the game.

After picking up their first Section One victory of the season against Bangor last weekend, captain Aaron Johnston and his squad are looking forward to taking on last year’s finalists.

“We are proud to welcome a Premier League club to Gibson Park,” he said.

“We experienced a bit of it last year when we drew Instonians in the Challenge Cup. We are looking to perform a bit better than we did then because they beat us pretty comfortably in the end. It was a great experience for our guys because a lot of them hadn’t played against Premier League opposition before.

“We have just had our clubhouse renovated recently and a big refurbishment job done which is just coming to a close, so it’s a good time for the spotlight to be on us and we will get a good support out.”

There have been very few upsets in the Challenge Cup in recent times with Premier League teams dominating their lower opposition, but Johnston feels it could be time for a shock result.

“We’ve performed well so far in the white ball matches, so we will take confidence from that going into this weekend,” he added.

“We know we are underdogs on Saturday but the NCU are due an upset. The gap between the Premier League and Section One is massive and has probably only got bigger in the past few years, but why not cause an upset? If we get our tails up at home then you never know.”

Before that, Cregagh will travel to The Mall on Friday night for a Twenty20 Trophy quarter-final against Armagh. They were beaten at the same venue on May 26 with a 45-run loss in the league fixture, but coupled with their Irish National Cup tie against Derriaghy on Sunday, Johnston believes these two competitions provide good chances of winning silverware.

“The pressure is off us on Saturday and we will enjoy it, but we will quietly back our skills and see what happens,” he said. “Friday and Sunday’s competitions are two good chances for silverware. We’ve been to Armagh already in the league and we didn’t bat to our capability. Because we are young, we are quick in the field and we are very happy to bowl first in Twenty20 and restrict teams.”

It would mark a brilliant first season as captain for Johnston and the former CIYMS man says he is loving his new role.

“I’m enjoying it,” he said.

“I was vice-captain last year so I got a taste of what it was like and felt ready to take over. On the pitch, the captaincy comes quite natural to me with the fields and bowlers. Everyone seems to respect me so far which is good!

“It’s the admin side that’s a bit different and the media side. I’m happy enough with it and take it all in my stride.”