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Robinson Services Section 1 - Three teams battling for two spots in the top-flight

Johnny Morton Robinson Services

The race for Robinson Services Premier League promotion has come down to the final weekend with three teams battling for two spots in the top-flight.

Barring a mathematical miracle, Cliftonvillve Academy, who are sitting top with 15 wins from 17 matches, have sealed their place in the 2022 Premier League but Derriaghy and Cregagh are hunting that second berth.

Derriaghy currently sit second and went on a 12-match winning run to start the season while Cregagh are four points behind but with two matches to play this weekend.

Mark Stinson's Derriaghy will welcome Cliftonville Academy to Queensway on Saturday in what should be a blockbuster while Cregagh travel to Muckamore before a rearranged home Twenty20 fixture against Saintfield.

It couldn't be set more perfectly heading into the final weekend of a season that started nearly four months ago, and we spoke to both Derriaghy captain Stinson and Cregagh skipper Aaron Johnston ahead of it.

Mark Stinson – Derriaghy

On the pressure: "I feel like there is less pressure on us with having that extra win on the board and we only have to play one game while they've to play two. We have to play the league leaders but we have already beat them so we might have something there, but our boys know we have to win and we have to give one final push. We know that even if we win we aren't guaranteed to go up, but I think there could be another sting in the tale."

On the week leading up: "I'm telling our boys not to overthink it because you could use all your energy up during the week. I've tried to keep the boys level until Saturday because we have done it before were we overthink it and come Saturday we have thought about it too much. I'm trying to keep it low key and that's been the policy this week."

On Section One this season: "It has been very competitive. If you started the season and were told you could lose three and still not be promoted I think you'd laugh. It's definitely been competitive and I think the three at the top have been the three best teams. Saying that, every team is beatable so that's why I think there could be a twist in the tale."

On their winning run and then struggles: "We were expecting to slip up at some point because we were never going to go the season unbeaten, but the three defeats were disappointing. We didn't show up against Cregagh but I think we will look back on the Saintfield one as the key one. Donacloney Mill and Cregagh comfortably beat us but if we have to look back I think the Saintfield one will be the killer for us, but that's life."

On what it would mean to be promoted: "It would be massive and a huge boost. There are a lot of young guys coming through that another season in the Premier League would be huge. We are seeing more kids coming down so hopefully that would drive even more to the club."

Aaron Johnston – Cregagh

On the weekend: "Everybody is excited for the two games. We have been on a good run recently so we will be looking to keep that form up and see what happens. All we can do is concentrate on ourselves and pick up our points. There's a small chance of us winning the league but the goal coming into the season was promotion and that's in our hands now. We've done well to get that back into our hands and we will go out and give it our best."

On bouncing back: "We would have liked to have it wrapped up by now but there was a period of the season were we deservedly lost games because we just didn't perform. We knew at the halfway point of the season we couldn't afford many more slip ups and we certainly knew when we had three losses that we couldn't have any more. There's been a run of five or six games where we knew we had to win them all, so we will look to keep that going this weekend. It makes my team talk easier when we have no option but to win! That's been the case for the past five or six weeks. Every game you tick off, the next one has a bit more pressure because you're getting closer and closer. A couple of guys are getting into form at a good point in the season so I'm hoping that continues this weekend."

On if he would class the season as a failure if they weren't promoted: "Yeah, I think I would. Last year we won the league, although it was a different format but being league champions we wanted to win it again. Promotion was the main aim and we aren't going to get a better chance because there's two spots up for grabs this season and next year it'll just be one again. It's the best chance we have had for promotion so this weekend is make or break in determining whether it has been a success or failure."

On what it would mean to Cregagh to gain promotion: "It would be massive. We are a club with a lot of history and it's been over 40 years since Cregagh were last in the top-flight. It's something we have spoke about as a team since the start of the season with the chance to make history and be part of it. There's boards up in our clubhouse with captain's names up on it and the photos of successful Cregagh teams are everywhere in the clubhouse, so it's going to be a chance for us to be there for the next generation coming through. It really is a massive thing."

Robinson Services Section 1