Schools battle it out for place in McCullough final

James Palmer on the attack against Banbridge Academy in the semi-final of the McBurney Cup

James Palmer on the attack against Banbridge Academy in the semi-final of the McBurney Cup

  • by Phil Allen

Campbell College are only 60 minutes away from reaching their first ever McCullough Cup final.

And by 4pm on Wednesday, they will know if they have achieved that goal.

Standing In their way are Friends School, Lisburn, who last won the trophy in 1981. Back then, Friends were enjoying a purple patch with the coveted trophy, as they won it four times in five years from 1976–1981.

But Campbell are not worried about past glories, they are concentrating on Wednesday’s semi-final.

The Belmont school topped group B, claiming the scalps of Sullivan Upper, Royal and Prior, Kilkeel and Bangor Grammar. But it was the scalp of the current holders, Banbridge Academy, that gave them the greatest pleasure.

The only team that managed to defeat them in six games was Methody, who didn’t even qualify for the semis.

Sullivan captain, Chris Morrow, who also plays for Annadale in the Premier League said “This is the first time Campbell has contested a McCullough Cup semi final and although we have narrowly beaten Friends twice this season, we know we are in for a tough battle.”

Campbell have two sets of twins in their team, Matthew and Chris Heath and Tim and Peter Rolston.

Chris Heath was outstanding for Ulster in the recent Under 18 interprovincials and the young player, who also is on Annadale’s books, has been included in the Irish Under 18 trialist panel.

Heath will be a thorn in the Friends defence, as he has the pace upfront to torture any defence and it would be a surprise if he is not on the score sheet at the end of the game.

Friends have a couple of potential match winners, in James Miliken and Matthew Sullivan and they have been included in the Irish Under 18 training panel.

Both players are on the fringe of the senior squad at Lisnagarvey and they will be determined to take Friends back to another McCullough cup final, as it is over 30 years since they last appeared in the final.

Friends lost only one game on their way to the semis and that was to eventual Group toppers Wallace. Friends saw off Banbridge Academy II’s, Regent, and Grosvenor.

But it was their final game against Cookstown High that qualification to the semis hinged on. And in a cracking game of hockey, the Lisburn school edged out Cookstown 3-2.

It is strange not to see Cookstown or Banbridge in a semi-final, let alone a final. Both schools have dominated the McCullough since the Millennium, having won it nine times between them.

However, the pendulum of power, for now, has swung away from them and it seems that Wallace High School is ready to take up the chalice.

Wallace must be favourites for the title this season, one that has eluded them for 24 years. Wallace last appeared in the final back in 2009, when they went down 4-2 to Banbridge.

The High school provided no fewer than 10 players in the Ulster under 16 and Under 18 squads at the Interpros and it will be that wealth of experience and talent that just might be just too strong for RBAI.

Wallace Captain Ross Kelly isn’t being too complacent. He said: “We are all really looking forward to playing against RBAI knowing that recent games between the two sides have been extremely tight.

“Having been to the semi finals of the Irish Schools we are keen as a squad to push on and reach the McCullough Cup final but know that this Inst side will be a tough nut to crack, especially after they defeated Banbridge Academy in the group stages to qualify.”

But Wallace was the only school to go through the Group stages undefeated, with Cookstown only managing to take a point from them.

They have several excellent players including Sean Murray and Daniel Nelson and this duo will send the RBAI defence spinning, as they have already proved that playing in the premiership with Lisnagarvey.

And they will be joined by Ulster Under 16 player Andrew O’Hare, who was outstanding for Ulster as he sealed an outstanding performance with a hat-trick against Leinster, to help retain the trophy for Ulster.

Wallace does have a couple of injury concerns, as Mark Acheson and Ulster Under 16 player, Scott McCabe, are both looking doubtful for the game.

Wallace’s opponents, RBAI, hold the record of McCullough Cup wins. They have lifted the trophy 16 times, their last coming back in 2006 when they trounced Banbridge 6-1.

The Belfast school ruled supreme in early 2000, as they won the trophy four times in six years and lost one.

RBAI finished second in their group to Campbell College, but it was their 4-3 win against Banbridge in the final Group game that sent them into Wednesday’s semi-final.

They also have a sprinkling of Ulster talent in their side, which includes Nathan Douglas and Matthew Johnston from the Ulster 18’s. But the biggest blow for RBAI is the absence of Irish senior international and Lisnagarvey star James Lorimer, who is injured.

He said: “I am disappointed at having to miss the McCullough Cup semi-final.

“However, the team has been making steady progress throughout the season under our coach Steven Redpath, and the boys are determined to give a good account of themselves on Wednesday.”

Today’s action is at two venues. Campbell College play Friends School at Campbell at 2.15pm. With the other semi between Wallace and RBAI being played at Lisnagarvey Hockey Club at 4pm.

The final is next Wednesday 11th December.




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