Finals week sees Banbridge Academ​y girls go to Stormont

LAST week saw the Academy girls make the trip to Stormont, not just once but four times in one week, having made it to four Ulster Hockey finals.
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First up, on Monday, March 11, the 3rd XI girls played in the Gibson Plate final against Friends’ School Lisburn. They began strong in midfield with captain Lucy Friar and midfielder Lucy Thompson creating real opportunity for attack. There were a few promising runs up the wing from Allegra Muldrew but unfortunately Banbridge were unable to finish them.

Friends showed real pace throughout the last two quarters of the match, testing the Academy's defence at every opportunity. Unfortunately, the pressure proved too much, with the Academy girls conceding two goals in the final quarter. The girls fought hard throughout the match and should be very proud of their performance.

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Tuesday saw a tightly contested encounter between Banbridge Academy and Methodist College Belfast in a 2nd XI McDowell Shield final that lived up to its billing. Banbridge started strongly, applying early pressure and dominating possession in the first quarter. However, they were unable to convert their dominance into goals, while Methody remained defensively sound. The first half ended scoreless.

Banbridge Academy's successful U14 team pictured with principal Robin McLoughlin and their coaches with the trophy.Banbridge Academy's successful U14 team pictured with principal Robin McLoughlin and their coaches with the trophy.
Banbridge Academy's successful U14 team pictured with principal Robin McLoughlin and their coaches with the trophy.

The tables turned slightly in the second half as Methody gained a foothold in the game but never looked dangerous. Resolute goalkeeping from Methody kept the score locked at 0-0.

Banbridge won a series of short corners, however, luck was not on the girls' side and solid goalkeeping from Methody prevented Banbridge from converting these opportunities. On the final whistle the match remained deadlocked, therefore the winner of the Shield would be decided by penalty run-ins. Banbridge's Kizzy Gley beat a very talented Methody keeper, but Methody managed to score twice with their final two run-ins to secure the win. While a disappointing result for the Banbridge side, the team has a huge amount to be proud of, not least their hard work and determination throughout the entire season which also saw the girls emerge as winners of the Mid-Ulster League.

That same afternoon the Banbridge Academy U14 girls met Strathearn in the final of the Ulster Schools’ Junior Cup. Both teams took a scoreless first quarter to settle, with Banbridge playing the more skilful hockey. The Strathearn goalkeeper held her nerve against numerous Academy attacks and penalty corners, and it wasn't until the second quarter that Evie Hobson found space to fire home in a crowded circle leaving it 1-0 to the Bann girls at half-time.

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Strathearn came out strongly in the third quarter with shots going wide. As the quarter progressed a short corner was awarded, which came off the post, hit a Bann foot and a stroke was awarded and scored. It was all to play for in the final quarter with the pressure coming from the Bann girls but unfortunately the score remained deadlock at full-time. For the second time this season these two teams could only be separated by run-ins. The score remained 1-1 after four run-ins with Katie Leslie finding the net. The Banbridge keeper, Caitlyn Topping, was fantastic and saved the fifth and final Strathearn stroke meaning it was down to Casey Cousins. She rose to the occasion and calmly slotted the ball past the keeper sealing the win and retaining the Junior Cup for Banbridge Academy U14 girls. The team now progress to the June Smith All-Ireland tournament for the second year running in Limerick on April 18, hoping to go one step further than last season and bring the trophy home.

U14 Captain Hannah Carswell receiving the cup.U14 Captain Hannah Carswell receiving the cup.
U14 Captain Hannah Carswell receiving the cup.

The last final of the week saw the girls’ 4th XI take on Royal School Armagh in the 4th XI Cup on Wednesday. The Banbridge side suffered an early set back with Royal School Armagh starting strongly, scoring the opening goal within minutes of the whistle. Despite conceding first, Banbridge Academy responded positively and displayed impressive hockey throughout the match, some of the best they had played all season. Armagh maintained their advantage, reaching half-time with a 2-0 lead. They added two more goals in quick succession during the final quarter to seal their victory.

Despite the defeat, the Academy girls displayed commendable sportsmanship and enthusiasm throughout the competition. Their positive spirit was evident from their lively warm-up and celebratory journey home.

Even though the final score wasn't in their favour, reaching the 4th XI cup final is a significant achievement for the girls. Their team performance and positive attitude are noteworthy aspects.

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What an end to a successful season for the Academy Girls – and it’s not over yet! Not only have the U14 team qualified for their All-Ireland Tournament but the 1st XI Girls will compete in a new pilot All-Ireland Tournament on April 11-12 at Wesley College, Dublin.

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