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Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 Trophy Final preview

Johnny Morton  

The Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 Trophy will draw to a conclusion on Thursday evening when Cregagh host Ballymena in the showpiece decider (6pm start).

After beating Armagh, Cliftonville Academy and Saintfield, Cregagh booked their spot in a third consecutive Trophy final and have gave themselves a chance of defending the title they won last season. Aaron Johnston's side have been mightily impressive in the shortest format and also picked up the Robinson Services Trophy in 2020. They will be hoping to add another piece of silverware to their growing collection, and Johnston is looking forward to the occasion.

"It feels like it's been a long time coming to finally have a final at home," he said. "I've lost count of the number of away finals we've had over recent years. It's up to us now to perform in front of the home crowd and we're all looking forward to the game. We are quite familiar with our opposition and know how dangerous they can be so we will have to be at the top of our game if we want to come out on top."

The Ducks will be without Graeme Hassard for the final after he broke his finger during a league game a few weeks ago, but the likes of Jay Hunter and Craig Boultwood, who have been in good form during this campaign, will be present. Winning this trophy was one of the main goals Johnston set his squad before the season started and he believes they are well suited to this format.

"I think a main reason is that we are still quite a young side which helps us keep a high intensity in the field," he added."T20 cricket can often come down to the difference between the fielding of the two sides. Also, I feel we have a good blend of power hitters and stroke makers in our batting line-up which helps us maintain a boundary threat throughout our innings. But ultimately, you need some luck in the shorter format of the game also."

Ballymena may come in as underdogs but they have already embraced that tag during this competition and are still the only team to record a victory over Derriaghy in 2021. The Eaton Park side, who welcomed James Kennedy back to the club and signed Michael Glass from Lisburn during the close season, have a good blend of youth and experience. John Glass will be captain with regular skipper Jack Gibson unavailable, but he's backing his squad to put in a big performance.

"We look at the Trophy final as a great opportunity to pick up some silverware," said Gibson. "The process of getting here has been a great experience for our squad and has been driven by some fantastic individual performances. We're all looking forward to Thursday evening with great excitement!"

It hasn't been an easy league campaign to date for Ballymena, winning just two of their 10 games to date, but they could use this game as a springboard and Gibson is confident they'll be able to turn it around.

"It's fair to say this season has been a challenging one so far," he added."Our batting line-up hasn't really fired consistently enough while our bowling has been a little less incisive than in previous years. That said, I'm pleased with the progress shown by a number of our younger players this season and I'm confident that the fundamental strength we have in our squad will shine through before too long and we'll see improved results in the second half of the season."

Cregagh squad: Aaron Johnston ©, Jay Hunter, Jonny Moore, Adam McCormick, Mark Johnston, Craig Boultwood, Craig Irvine, Ross Boultwood, Charlie Shannon, Adam Beattie, Danny Cooper, Max Shannon, Noah Kelly.

Ballymena squad: John Glass ©, James Kennedy, Matt Smith, Michael Glass, Stephen Colgan, Andy Magennis, Michael Caithness, Owen Dick, Peter Bristow, Sam Glass, Stevie Bristow.

Lagan Valley Steels Twenty20 Trophy