Gemma McKitterick took on the role of supersub as Lurgan College lifted the Senior Schoolgirls hockey Cup for the second time in three years after a 1-0 win over Victoria College in yesterday’s final at Lisnagarvey.
Her brilliantly taken 51st minute goal set up by co-captain Chloe McCann was all that separated the teams in an entertaining contest watched by a bumper four figure crowd.
But it was a more convincing win than the scoreline suggests as Lurgan had the bulk of the possession.
Their greater experience both of playing on the biggest stage in domestic schoolgirls’ hockey allied to their senior league players’ ability gave them a distinct edge.
The Barr twins, Bethany and Serena, along with McCann and midfielder Hannah grieve all play Premier League hockey with the town team and, at times, it showed.
But a combination of wayward finishing and rock solid defending in a backs-to-the-wall Victoria performance, kept the game alive until the last 10 minutes.
There can be no doubt that Lurgan fully deserved their narrow win but the plus side was that when the game was scoreless for so long meant there was always the chance it could have gone the distance.
In fact you had the distinct impression that Victoria’s only real chance of winning the game would have been through a penalty shoot-out just like they had done in beating Ballyclare at the semi final stage.
Although the Vic forwards worked tirelessly they were left to feed off scraps and Naomi Costley will seldom have a quieter day in the Lurgan goal.
Indeed once Lurgan, who had lost last year’s final to Ballyclare High, scored it was difficult to see any way back for the gallant Victoria side.
They spent most of the 60 minutes deep in their own territory but they defended magnificently throughout typified by Azka Yousef’s brilliance in goal.
She was the heroine of the penalty shoot-out win in the semi final and it wasn’t hard to see why as she proved an extremely brave and competent last line of defence.
Her colleagues at the back didn’t let her down either as Pollock was well supported by Emily Mills, Maddy McCavana and Megan Halliday.
But Lurgan had just that little bit more class and that along with their experience of playing in the last three finals probably was the telling factor.
There was little to choose between the sides in a cagey opening 10 minutes although Lurgan were disrupted when McCann had to go off with a leg injury before re entering the fray.
Yousef brought off good stops from Hannah Grieve and Bethany Barr in second quarter of the game as Lurgan began to impose themselves on the match.
Then McCann had a chance to break the deadlock after being set up by Serena Barr but the opportunity was missed and the teams went into the break on level terms.
Six minutes after the restart Barr’s effort was deflected onto the crossbar by Rachel Hanley and then Megan Halliday made a superb goal line clearance to deny Lurgan from another set piece.
In the 48th minute the ever dangerous McCann set up a good chance for Serena Barr who had escaped the shackles of the Victoria defence but her shot missed the target.
But the pressure eventually paid off three minutes later. McCann found substitute Gemma McKitterick with a pin point pass and she fired the ball home for the winner.
In the dying minutes Lurgan won their ninth penalty corner and Ellen Mullen’s effort narrowly missed the target.
Victoria had a rare attack in the last minute but they were unable to get a shot in and shortly afterwards the final whistle sounded to prompt the celebrations.
But Victoria can hold their heads high for not only reaching the final for the first time since 1973 but for making such a rich contribution to the game.
VICTORIA COLLEGE: Azka Yousaf, Sophie Pollock, Emily Mills, Rachel Henderson, Jemma Hool, Rachel Hanley, Olivia Blundell, Jessica Bamber, Elizabeth Lawther, Katharyn Brown, Maddy McKavanagh, Megan Halliday, Eva McCartan, Georgia Dick, Kathryn Shane, Rebecca Labo.
LURGAN COLLEGE: Alex Hurst, Bethany Barr, Chloe McCann, Judith Edgar, Karthryn Edgar, Julie Morrow, Hannah Grieve, Ellen Mullen, Shannon Davidson, Serena Barr, Naomi Costley, Samatha Bann, Gemma McKitterick, Louise McKitterick, Katie Allen, Jill Costley
Umpires: Lyn Morrow, Mark Huddleston.