Banbridge Academy renewed their Belfast Telegraph Senior Schools’ Cup rivalry with Sullivan Upper on Wednesday at Stormont at the semi-final stage with the schools now having met in the final four stages of Ulster schoolgirl hockey’s blue riband cup for each of the last four years. Sullivan were victorious in the first 2 at final and semi-final stage respectively, with Bann coming out on top last year in the semi-final en route to landing the trophy for the first time ever.
Bann had progressed to the semi-final stage with hard fought victories over Lurgan College and Royal School Armagh, whereas Sullivan had accounted for Belfast Royal Academy and Strathearn in the previous rounds. Both sides were at full strength vying to take on the winners of the other semi-final between Rainey Endowed and Friends’ School Lisburn.
Sullivan, despite being the underdogs, started off in determined fashion and immediately, through their talented skipper Laura McGaw, put the Bann defence under pressure with some probing runs. One such run saw a ball flash across the front of the Bann goal after 5 minutes and luckily for Bann no-one from Sullivan was on hand to benefit from it.
The locals slowly began to get in to the game and, prompted by their captain Katie McKee, started to ask questions of the Sullivan defence. The Bann attack led by Nadia Benallal, were posing all sorts of problems for their counterparts with their probing runs and forward movement. Bann forced the first short corner of the match after 10 minutes but Katie McKee’s effort was blocked.
Bann continued to hold the upper hand but Sullivan still looked dangerous on the counter attack, however, it was the locals who took the lead after 15 minutes from a short corner. Katie McKee spun to beat the onrushing defenders and fired an unstoppable shot past the Sullivan keeper to give her side a crucial lead.
A piece of Nadia Benallal magic nearly created a second just minutes later when she mesmerised the Sullivan defence with her stick work only for the visitors keeper to save her reverse stick effort with a superb stick save as the ball arrowed toward the top corner of the net. It was now all Bann with possession but they could not find a way past the resolute Sullivan defence.
Half time gave both sides a chance to catch their breaths and take on board comments from their respective coaching teams. Bann knew a quick goal would prove a long way back for the Holywood side and they set off immediately at the start of the second half to seek this. The second half continued in the same vein as the first had ended with Bann holding the upper hand and Sullivan defending resolutely.
The locals were now in complete control and Nadia Benallal scored the all- important second goal after 10 minutes of the second half with a smart finish from the left hand side of the circle after a good link-up with Katie McKee. Further chances then fell to Bann from open play and short corners but these went abegging through a combination of fine goal keeping, superb goal line clearances and the odd lack of killer touch in front of goal.
Bann however maintained their composure and professionalism at the back and calmly dealt with any Sullivan threat on their circle. They continued to dominate the game and saw out the remaining minutes to secure their place in the final for the third time in 4 years where they will meet old adversaries Rainey Endowed who overcame Friends’ with the same 2-0 score line.
The final is scheduled for Wednesday 7 March at Stormont and the team would like to thank their management team for all their efforts and their supporters and families who braved the bright, but cool conditions, to cheer them on.