Defending Belfast Telegraph Senior Cup holders, Banbridge Academy, were not ready to relinquish their hold on the trophy just yet, as they sneaked past Royal School Armagh on penalty runs following a thrilling quarterfinal tie in front of a huge crowd under the Havelock Park floodlights. Armagh took the game to the locals right from the start prompted by the ever dangerous skills of Olivia Berry. The Bann defence superbly marshalled by Hannah Buchanan and Katie McDonald, ably supported by Sarah Jane and Maisie Corry, kept their side on level terms in the 1st quarter as they weathered the initial Armagh pressure.
The second quarter saw Bann grow more into the game and they opened the scoring, against the run of play, after 20 minutes through a scrambled 2nd phase effort from Gemma Hasson following up at a short corner. It did not take Armagh too long to get back on level terms when they fired home a rebound from their opening corner less than 2 minutes later. From then on it was nip and tuck with both sides having spells in the game when it looked like they could take the lead and the large crowd were treated to a top game between two evenly match sides.
Half time saw the sides locked at 1-1 and the 3rd quarter, with Gemma Hasson prominent for Bann, saw the locals push for that all-important next goal, but the Armagh defence stood firm and as the game entered the final 5 minutes it could go either way. Armagh were given a gilt edged chance to take a crucial lead when they were awarded a penalty stroke with just over 4 minutes left on the clock after a short corner was deflected onto a Banbridge foot on the line. Bann keeper Rebecca Spence however made a superb stick save to her right to keep her side on level terms. With only 10 seconds left in the game, Armagh had another chance to take the tie but again Spence came to her side’s rescue with another superb block on one on one with the Armagh centre forward.
The game ended 1-1 and now entered the nerve jangling penalty runs. Both sides have already experienced the highs and lows of this exciting climax to games with Bann being successful in their Superleague semi against BRA, whereas Armagh lost out to Rainey at the QF stage of the same competition. Armagh drew first blood when they scored their opener but this was quickly cancelled out by Bann’s Jodie Simmons. Rebecca Spence then denied Olivia Berry but Bann’s Katie McDonald was thwarted by Armagh’s Zoe Whitford. Again Spence denied Armagh only for Ellen Reid to miss the target having done the hard work to get round Whitford. Armagh took the lead when they converted their 4th effort but Gemma Hasson restored parity for Bann with a successful conversion. Spence again then denied Armagh, presenting Alex Gardiner with an opportunity to seal the deal for Bann and she showed nerves of steel to skip round Whitford and plant the ball into the empty net, much to the delight of her team mates and the large home support.
A superb game of hockey well umpired that showcased all that is good about schoolgirl hockey in Ulster – commitment, skill, and determination and all played in a great spirit. A lot of credit should go to both teams for this. The later start to the game allowed a big crowd to finish school and work to cheer on their side and create a superb atmosphere for a top game. Games over recent seasons between ourselves and Armagh have been so close and we have been somewhat fortunate to have come out on top today much to the heroics of our Irish under 18 keeper Rebecca Spence – she’s a top keeper and has worked really hard on penalty runs over the past few weeks and she was immense when the questions were really asked of her today. We’ll keep working on our game over the next few weeks in preparation for the semis no matter who we play we’ll have it all to do again. “Quotes by Mr Neil Madeley, 1st XI Girls’ Coach”