The Academy Boys Hockey Team created another historic double winning season within a day of their younger counterparts by beating Cookstown High School to claim the schools 14th Ulster Schools’ Ferris Cup.
The team has been unbeaten this year domestically in Ulster amounting some seriously impressive hockey along the way. The majority of games have been away from home so making the trip to Comber road on the smurf turf was a pleasure. The Academy Hockey lads brought a huge crowd to spur the squad on and they added some real spice to what would prove a fantastic advert for schools sport.
The game began at a fierce pace with the Banbridge midfield of Tommy Dobson, Lewis Cousins and Jake Rainer being rumbled on the ball with some physical Cookstown defending. The potent threat of Ewan Cruickshanks was clear to all as the big Tyrone player dominated the opponent’s efforts with crash ball and aerial chucks to keep the Academy at bay. With quick slick passing the style of hockey the team has grasped under Coaches Cordner and Bruce McCandless the Academy tore through the Cookstown defence with Matthew McKee and Ben Pollock showing clean heels and quality 3D carries to the baseline only to be denied by two great saves first from open play and then a neat slip right from the Academy’s second PCA. The Cookstown defense run outs did a fine job on the initial drag flick option and a smarter collect and return option lead to Jake Rainer opening the account with a second phase follow up that he bladed high into the roof of the net to give Cookstown no chance.
This lead sparked some total hockey with skipper Cousins having his work cut out to contain Cookstown on the left hand side. Between the defensive skills of Thomas Cunningham and Tom Hamilton the Cookstown attack was kept at a minimum as aerial balls for the majority were carefully dealt with and smash ball found flat sticks. This no nonsense resolute style of defending was epitomized as Thomas Cunningham found himself on the wrong end of a direct hit to circle – ending his final but showing desire to defend for the team. His replacement was another key factor in adding steel to the constant Dobson threat offensively – Matthew Stevenson providing tangible support for both Murphy and Moles as they provided quality supply to “Turbo” to set him free. This ability on the ball was matched my McKee and Pollock and with the trio on fire it allowed a diagonal pass to see Spencer Collie collect with a sweeping left to right run to fire home the second and give the Academy a 2-0 cushion.
Half time: Academy 2 – Cookstown 0
The words from Cordner and McCandless revolved around maintaining possession in key areas and not overcommitting to the attacks. With a Cookstown revival imminent post half time the boys knew switching on would be important to grind out the result and bring home the trophy. The immediate restart saw Cruickshanks surge forward beating no less than four Academy players and it took a last ditch tackle from the impressive Joshua Moles to end the penetrating run. The calmness around the unit was broken though in the 32nd minute as a long handled hit from right midfield saw Cuddy and Millar link well to score at the back post – 2-1 and game firmly on. The physicality of the Cookstown players now came to the fore and the speed of the Academy attack drained somewhat meaning Ben Farson, Simon Ferris and Matthew Spence took the field to add some drive and much needed energy.
Indeed Ferris made a wonderful block challenge and set Collier and Pollock free who squared the ball to Rainer. His powerful run saw him make the end line run and the pull back found Matthew McKee who showed some fast hands and grunt to dink the ball over the advancing defender and keeper and bundle the ball over the line to make it 3-1 to the jubilation of the Bann crowd!
There would be six minutes of tough tackling and some fortunate bounces but it was Conor Part who would have the last say as attack after attack saw the young keeper produce easily his best performance of the season. He withstood 3 consecutive drag flicks saving twice on the stick side and having Matthew Stevenson take the other off the line in magnificent style. This continued pressure from set pieces and frustration would continue for the Academy too as they earned two more attacking corners only to see shots saved from Rainer and Collie when well placed – the Cookstown keeper also having a quality day between the posts. Yet another smash and grab effort from high up the pitch would see a cruel twist though as an unmarked high man sweep home with just two minutes remaining to push the score line to 3-2.
Both sides knew that with new rules implemented for the first time this season that there would be no extra time or indeed the sharing of the trophy. Under new guidelines the game would dramatically go to run downs if a tie so Cookstown pushed all forward in a bid to force the issue. But the Academy stood firm and resilient and McKee used all his intelligence and skills to hold possession high up the pitch in the corner to see out the clock and end the contest 3-2 to Banbridge Academy.
The parents, pupils and wider hockey community will remember the game for all the right reasons with two sides battling it out to the final second. The academy Captain Lewis Cousins thanked everyone for a season of undeniable dedication and commitment and introduced each one of his squad as they collected the Ulster Gold medal.
The U14 squad would wish to pay tribute to Coaches Cordner and McCandless, bad cop and good cop. They would also like to formally thank all those who supported them throughout the year including pupils, staff and parents alongside sponsors First Trust and Pactimo for their kits and bottles for the final. The squad will now have no rest bite as they prepare for the John Waring Irish Schools to be staged at FSL on April 10th.
The schools that have qualified for this prestigious event include Cookstown and Banbridge (Ulster), Dublin High and Wesley College (Leinster) and Ashton and Bandon (Munster). More details to follow prior to the IHA run spectacle.
The Ferris Cup Squad 2019
C.Part, J.Moles (vc), M.Murphy, M.Stevenson, T.Cunningham, T.Hamilton, T. Dobson, J.Rainer, L.Cousins(c), S.Ferris, B.Pollock, S.Collie, M.McKee, M.Spence, D.McHugh, B.Walker, J.Brownlee, B.Farson.
Coaches: Mr M Cordner & Mr B McCandless