Ex-Randalstown pals face-off in school semi-finals

Robyn Chambers will be facing up to some former and present club colleagues
Robyn Chambers will be facing up to some former and present club colleagues

There will something of a Randalstown reunion at Wednesday’s Ulster Senior Schools Cup semi-finals at Lisnagarvey and a chance to reminisce about the good old days when the Co Antrim side were among the best teams in the country.

Two member of the squad that won all before it in the 1990s will be opposing dug outs when Rainey Endowed meet Ballymena Academy in the first game at 1.30pm.

Jakie McWilliams, who won a bronze medal with Great Britain at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, coaches Ballymena while her former team mate in the glory days Carolyn Burns is in charge of Rainey.

Then half an hour later on an adjacent pitch Ballyclare High School, who are managed by Andrea McCullough, the captain of the great ‘Town team of the 90s, are up against the holders and reigning all Ireland champions Lurgan College.

That game is a repeat of the 2012 final which Ballyclare won after extra time before Lurgan went on to beat Victoria College in last year’s decider.

Lurgan went on to lift the Kate Russell Cup and they were recently named young team of the year at an awards bash when they were up against stiff opposition from many different sports.

For Rainey this is a new experience though and it is the first time they have been in a semi final for 37 years whereas Ballymena have to go back to 2001 for their last triumph.

McWilliams shares the coaching duties with Graham Quincey who was her techinical coach in the lead up to the Barcelona showpiece all those years ago.

Quincey, who now works with Queen’s in the Premier League, is a former Randalstown coach himself and supervised McCullough and Burns during his time in charge of the Co Antrim side.

McWilliams says she is looking forward to renewing some old acquaintances but for 60 minutes at least, her friendship with her former ‘Town team mate will be set to one side.

Ballymena have an old score to settle to add spice to Wednesday’s encounter with Rainey as it was they who dismissed the Academy from the competition last season.

That game was played at the Meadowbank Arena which is effectively an outdoor hockey pitch at an indoor venue whereas today’s game will be staged on Garvey’s water based surface.

“From what I can recall it was quite a tight match last year and there was only one goal in it at the finish.” said McWilliams.

“Most of the girls in the semi finals won’t be used to playing on water and I think there is an argument for maybe staging some of the earlier rounds on such a surface, maybe from the quarter final on.

“But we have managed to fit in three practice sessions, two at Garvey and one at the Dub on Monday night when Graham was able to arrange a match against Queen’s.

“The build up has been a bit fragmented with exams but I know it has been the same for Rainey so that should even itself out.

“Our paths have crossed before apart from the cup match last season and I expect them to be well organised and physically strong.

“It will be nice to meet up with Carolyn again but hopefully I won’t be congratulating her at the final whistle!”

In another intriguing cameo, three members of the Pegasus Premier League squad will be involved in the Ballymena Academy-Rainey Endowed game but they won’t all be on the same side.

Robyn Chambers, who joined the Ulster Premier League champions from Ballymoney in the close season, will be in direct opposition to two of her club mates in the shape of Rhianna Campbell and Leah Paul.

Normally Campbell plays up front for Pegasus but with the Academy she is a central defender so she could well find Chambers bearing down at her as the latter is a forward.

She could be a big threat to Ballymena as her talents have already been recognised by the Ireland senior coach Darren Smith.

Chambers is a member of the extended national traning panel and is a regular visitor to Dublin for weekend training sessions under the watchful eye of the New Zealander.

In another twist, Chambers will also be in direct opposition to a former Ballymoney team mate as Emma Kernohan plays in the Ballymena midfield.

It should be a tight game with very little between the two sides and, as is often said about cup matches, it could genuinely be decided by whatever happens on the day.

Nerves, with the usual bumper crowd expected, can sometimes get to the players and whichever side manages to settle the better and sooner could well go on to take the honours and book their place in next month’s decider.

The relatively unfamiliar playing surface could also pose its own set of problems and whichever side adapts better to the water could hold the upper hand.

Pegasus are also heavily involved in the second semi final between Ballyclare High and the holders Lurgan College.

Michelle Rainey, the Pegasus coach, is also in charge of Ballyclare and she should know quite a bit about the Lurgan College captain Hannah Grieve.

Hannah moved from the Lurgan Premier League team to the Belfast side during the summer so, for once, Michelle Rainey won’t be too unhappy if she doesn’t shine too much on the day.

Like the first game this is also a hard one to call and the same rules apply as regards the pitch and coping with nerves as well as the opposition.