Royal School Armagh are celebrating their second successive cup win after this closely fought final at Portadown yesterday. More than 800 people packed into the ground to watch a game that was always full of incident and the result was never a foregone conclusion.
The holders started nervously and Ballyclare, playing their first ever senior final, were completely dominant for the first 15 minutes.
Ballyclare captain Sharon Graham was in outstandng form down the left and caused serious problems for the Armagh defence. Lynzi Pollock won Ballyclare's first penalty corner after seven minutes and then saw her shot well saved by goalkeeper and captain Jenny Jackson.
Armagh star Amy Stewart, who is heading off to France today with Ireland, barely touched the ball in the opening exchanges. Then in the 15th minute she found a bit of space and won a penalty corner. This began a period of sustained pressure from Armagh and in the 20th minute Stewart scored at a penalty corner after a rebound.
In the second half Stewart continued to show the class that has made her the youngest ever player for Ireland at the age of 15 and she finished a devestating run through the centre with a reverse stick shot that went narrowly wide.
She was well supported by defenders Jill Humphries, who looked very solid at left back, and centre back Rebecca McMahon, who kept the dangerous Ballyclare forwards at bay.
Anna Mae Morton was also in great form for Armagh and won the Eurosport Player of the Match award.
For Ballyclare Lyn Brown had a good game at right back and Lauren Mawhinney looked sharp up front.
The second half was an even affair with Ballyclare finishing strongly in the search for the equaliser which would have been fair enough on the balance of play.
Armagh won seven penalty corners and Ballyclare won six, an indication of how close the teams were in their ability.
The magic of young Stewart was probably the difference between the sides and in the end it was her sharpness in front of goal that settled the result and maintained Armagh's superb record in this competition in recent years.
They have won the title three times in the last four years and will now represent Ulster in the all Ireland Kate Russell Cup.It will take a good team to beat them.
Armagh: Jenny Jackson, Nicola Monaghan, Rebecca McMahon, Joanne Orr, Jill Wilson, Jill Humphries, Rebekah Dodds, Katherine Steenson, Claire Warnock, Amy Stewart, Laura Cornett, Susanne Hill, Charis Seeds, Kathryn Orr, Kimberley Bruce, Anna-Mae Morton. Coaches, Judith McVicker, Michael McKinnon, Jareth McCready.
Ballyclare: Rachel Aiken, Sarah Whincup, Kim Montgomery, Rebecca Smith, Lyn Brown, Sharon Graham, Carolynne Dougan, Amy McConnell, Jayne Gault, Linzi Pollock, Lauren Mawhinney, Paula Browne, Holly Steele-Nicholson, Lynsey McAllister, Lyn Taylor, Louise Bell, Susie Weir. Coaches, Michelle Rainey, Andrea McCullough.