GMcG Junior Cup Final Preview

Jul 28, 2023 | General News

The stage is set at Upritchard Park for tomorrow’s GMcG Junior Cup Final featuring an all-Senior League Section Two clash between Bangor Cricket Club and Lurgan Cricket Club.

Both clubs have had success in the competition with Bangor II’s winning it in 2004 and Lurgan II’s lifting the trophy a few years later in 2007. However, it is now up to the clubs’ 1st XI’s to do battle in the prestigious competition which dates back to 1891.

After the relegation of both teams to Section Two after the 2022 season, Lurgan and Bangor have so far relished the opportunities in the Section Two League and subsequent competitions with Lurgan being unbeaten at the top of the table with a string of dominant performances. Bangor’s league campaign has been somewhat frustrating due to the poor weather and have unfortunately had 3 games abandoned and void but have an LVS T20 Bowl Final to look forward to in the coming week.

Lurgan’s captain Stephen Johnston has had an excellent season and is very much looking forward to leading his team out onto the Upritchard Park turf on Saturday, “To be in the GMcG Junior Cup Final has been a great boost to the team as part of our league campaign and for keeping positive momentum going forward at the club. Having a final is a great and privileged event to be a part of regardless of the sport or level you play at. For me, I know I will always look back and remember cup final days with my teammates – especially ones you come out on top.

For the club, It’s a very positive step forward to get to the final. It was a hard route to come through beating some very competitive and strong 2nd XI sides to make it this far. A win would validate a first step in our rebuild of looking to progress back to the top flight of the NCU cricket leagues.”

Again touching on Lurgan’s successful season so far, “I attribute the success fully to the team and the commitment that all the club members and players have given this year. That very much includes all the hard work that goes on from people behind the scenes. As a captain, I feel my role is to facilitate the team playing cricket and getting the guys to enjoy spending time in each other’s company. Enjoyment of the game is key, and that, in my view, is the first step to instil a winning mentality. It’s an important part of the job – There are a lot of competing contentions with cricket, and we ask a lot of the team to give time away from family, friends & work. This year our team has had great performance and results right throughout the team. Winning is a habit that we have tried to install with repetitive processes.”

Difficult team selections are part and parcel of the captaincy role but as always they are a good problem to have when the team is winning, “It’s been a very challenging selection for our club selectors this week. There were a few hard discussions for me to have by informing folks that they have missed out. Having these tough selections, however, shows the progress of the club and is a testament to all the hard work going on behind the scenes. I couldn’t pick one approach that the selectors took for this game, there was a multitude of different axes that we looked at when deciding on the final 12.”

Lurgan Captain Stephen Johnston (Photo by Maynard Collins)

Stephen is fully prepared for a close game and has several important players he can call upon to put in a performance, specifically, “ Greivo! (Callum Grieve) I always tell him he is my go-to, but he is never calm so unsure how that goes most weeks. The serious answer is we have a very balanced team with anyone on their day who can perform highly with the bat, ball or pull off a great catch. I back any of the players from number 1-11 (or 12) to step up should they need to get us over the line.”

Lurgan’s Callum Grieve (Photo by Maynard Collins)

Pre-game routines range from captain-captain and team-team, “My usual pre-game process is to take my two young kids swimming lessons in the morning. On Saturday, there won’t be time for that this week, but look forward to having them down to support after. For the team, however, we will stick to our usual warm-up and pre-match processes. This is not to undermine the cup final, but this is how we have approached every game this year, regardless of situation, opposition, or location, we repeat the same processes and try to set our standards.”

With Upritchard Park being one of the premier grounds and batting pitches in the country, any opportunity to play there is always welcomed by local cricketers, “Upritchard Park is always been known as “a road” and a great batting surface. I am delighted that the final is in Bangor with such great facilities playing against a fantastic team. I think this gives the Junior Cup the right platform to provide a great event for everyone involved.”

After a disappointing relegation from Section One last year, Bangor has looked to rebuild and the chance to lead his Bangor side out on their home ground in a cup final is an opportunity that captain Johnny Parker has looked forward to his whole cricketing career, “One of the only things of unfortunately getting relegated from section One last season was the opportunity it afforded to play in what is a historic and prestigious competition that is the Junior Cup. Thinking back to the golden summer Bangor CC had in 2004 when the club had its most successful season. The 2nd XI’s Junior Cup success, then played over two days, sat very proudly alongside the 1st XI winning the Premier League (then Section One). 

In short, it will be an immensely proud day. Bangor Cricket Club has some of the finest and most dedicated volunteers in local sport and to have a day like a GMcG Junior Cup Final at your home ground is an occasion that rewards all the efforts that go on behind the scenes.
As soon as it was confirmed, we used the knowledge of the final being at Upritchard Park as real motivation to do all we could to try and be a part of that occasion. Taking the field just before our semi-final, it was the last thing I reminded the team of and how a home, Junior Cup Final will be something we will look back on when we hang the spikes up.

Bangor Captain Johnny Parker (Photo by Sarah Harkness)

Johnny has had plenty of options at his disposal this season and gives real credit to the commitment of his players, “We have struck lucky this year in having a good balance of experience and youth. We are very lucky to have a pool of seam bowlers to pick from and thus when holidays or weddings crop up, we have never been left too short in that department. The team has never put too much pressure on themselves and never thought too far ahead. Player availability is always an area a captain looks at and has been the demise of many good cricket captains. This year, and I would like to thank every player who has represented our 1st XI this has been a huge part of our success. Most weeks we have squads to pick from and difficult decisions to be made. We have competition for places and this has forced many players to put in performances to keep their place.  

My big emphasise this year was ensuring that we enjoyed our cricket, trying to create an environment that every player wanted to be part of and allow the cricket to look after itself.

Unsurprisingly, it has been a very difficult team selection and by far the worst part of a captain’s role is leaving players out of any game, never mind a final. We have one forced change which is unfortunate with our young opening batsman Sam McMillan being unavailable due to representing Ulster Hockey in Nottingham. Sam has had an excellent season for us and is a big part of the team’s success this year.” Young Sam McMillan has had an excellent season and has put in some great performances with bat and ball scoring some mature half-centuries in the league and cups which earned him a call-up to representative duties with the Knights Under 17’s in the Inter-provincials and the Under-19’s against the touring MCC.

Bangor taking the field (Photo by Dillon Osborne)

Bangor has no doubt got a wealth of experience in their team that has blended well with the younger guys coming through and Johnny Parker has a range of players he can count on to step up in crucial and tense periods of a match, “We are lucky to have a lot of experience this year and have had a few close games in which different people have put their hands up each time which from a captains point of view is perfect, as we are not relying on one or two players to have a big impact on the game. 

We have a few players who have played in the Junior Cup Final before and this year we have been lucky to have had a cup run in the T20 Bowl also which pays testament to the player’s ability to cope with the added pressure that knock-out competitions bring with it. We recruited the services of Andrew Kirkpatrick at the beginning of the season and he has been an excellent addition and a key factor in the team’s success this year. He has been flawless behind the stumps and forged excellent relationships with our bowlers and won us games with the bat in several different batting positions. The move down to Section Two and our enthusiasm to grow our youth section also brought some experienced players back to first-team cricket. This has been instrumental in the team’s development. Training intensity has increased and along with experience, these players have a real desire to compete and win. This is an important lesson for our young players and something again as a captain I am very happy to have within the squad.

An indication of a good cricketing side is its ability to bowl teams out and claim all 10 wickets, “As a bowling unit, we have managed to contain and take regular wickets throughout the season. This has been achieved without the services of last year’s stand-out bowler David Kennedy. Since DK’s return to the club, he has been nothing short of incredible, both on and off the field. He has unfortunately missed the vast majority of the season due to injury and I know with the character he is, he would have relished this occasion on Saturday. DK would have undoubtedly improved our side this year but it is to his credit that he has still influenced the team from the sideline.

Finally, as with Stephen Johnston and his pre-game routine, Johnny Parker won’t look to change anything in the build-up to the final, “In short no. We have a pretty set routine and the boys know what they need to do to get ready come that first ball. The 11 am start is a bit unusual and I will certainly be at the ground earlier than we are used to. Thankfully, we are the designated home team and don’t have to forgo our home dressing room as that would have felt alien, to say the least.

The GMcG Junior Cup Final will hopefully be an exciting battle of two evenly poised teams and fingers crossed that the weather can behave itself for the first weekend in quite some weeks.


The match will begin at 11 am at Upritchard Park, Bangor on Saturday 29 July 2023. 

Follow the game live on NVplay

Michael Martin