Academy girls bounce back from heartbreak to take all-Ireland title

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LAST Thursday, Banbridge Academy’s U14 Junior Cup winners travelled down to Thurles, Tipperary, home of the 2024 June Smith All-Ireland U15 championship hosts, Ursuline Secondary School.

The Academy’s opponents in this year’s edition of the premium junior girls’ hockey tournament in Ireland consisted of Connacht’s Salerno Secondary School, Leinster’s Muckross Park College, South East’s Kilkenny College and Munster’s Ursuline Secondary School.

Banbridge Academy 1-0 Salerno Secondary School

With the competition being a round-robin format, it was imperative to get off to a good start and the Academy did just that with a hard-fought win over a defensively stubborn Salerno.

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A long way to go, but well worth the trip to Tipp...The Banbridge Academy junior girls who lifted the June Smith Trophy in Thurles, County Tipperary, a week ago.A long way to go, but well worth the trip to Tipp...The Banbridge Academy junior girls who lifted the June Smith Trophy in Thurles, County Tipperary, a week ago.
A long way to go, but well worth the trip to Tipp...The Banbridge Academy junior girls who lifted the June Smith Trophy in Thurles, County Tipperary, a week ago.

Evie Hobson’s perfectly-timed winner coming with just minutes to go in the contest, putting the first points on the board for the Ulster champions.

Banbridge Academy 1-0 Muckross Park College

Next up, Muckross, who themselves had started the competition off with a comprehensive win over Kilkenny College.

This match continued the trend from the start with the Academy controlling the ball but struggling to penetrate a resolute defence. That all changed when a quick transfer from left to right released Nancy McCusker into space at the top of the circle and the midfielder smashed a delicious ball to the back post where Abi Cherry was waiting to tip in and grab the lead. Muckross would not go without a fight, however, and what followed was a barrage on the Academy goal, superb counter attacking hockey from the Leinster school leading to numerous opportunities to score. Caitlyn Topping in the Academy goal needed to be in tremendous form, and she was, seeing off the Leinster champions and confirming another Academy win.

​June Smith presents Hannah Carswell with the trophy.​June Smith presents Hannah Carswell with the trophy.
​June Smith presents Hannah Carswell with the trophy.

Banbridge Academy 3-0 Kilkenny College

It was Kilkenny College in the Academy’s third match of the day and the most comfortable win of the tournament. Casey Cousins, who had played superbly up to this point, got her rewards with a sumptuous finish from the middle of the circle only five minutes into the game to put Banbridge in the driving seat. Mya Kennedy and Mollie Tumilty on the wings continued to torment the Kilkenny defence and it was the latter who combined beautifully with Katie Leslie to bag a brace and put the Academy within touching distance of the June Smith Trophy.

Banbridge Academy 2-0 Ursuline Thurles

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With one game to go the Academy knew a draw would be enough to be crowned champions, however, they wanted more than that, with a win seeing them to a perfect record.

​Mya Kennedy, Mollie Tumilty and Casey Cousins celebrate.​Mya Kennedy, Mollie Tumilty and Casey Cousins celebrate.
​Mya Kennedy, Mollie Tumilty and Casey Cousins celebrate.

The defence of Rachel Pollock, Maisie Nicholl, Kirsty Fong and captain Hannah Carswell – who had been rock solid all day – were once again as resolute as ever, seeing off any attack that the host school could throw at them. Charlotte Betts, an injury doubt in the lead-up to the event, controlled the midfield and tempo of the game, breaking up play with her superb tackling and starting attacks with ease. The Academy needed someone to step up and big game player Casey Cousins was on hand to provide them with the goal that was needed after Abi Cherry beat her player down the right and delivered a perfect ball to Cousins.

Katie Leslie continued to show her prowess and maturity on the ball and it was her who sent Mollie Tumilty away to calmly round the keeper and send the Academy into jubilation.

They had done it, a year on from a heartbreaking silver medal in the same competition, the Banbridge Academy Junior Girls were June Smith Under-15 All-Ireland Champions!

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