HOCKEY: Jake Rowe brace fires Babridge Academy to McCullough Cup success

The victorious Banbridge team celebrates winning the McCullough Cup for the eighth time.
The victorious Banbridge team celebrates winning the McCullough Cup for the eighth time.
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Jake Rowe hit both the goals, including a late winner, as Banbridge Academy lifted the McCullough Cup for the eighth time after a hard-fought 2-1 win over Royal & Prior at Comber Road.

His achievement deservedly earned him the man-of-the-match trophy as his penalty-corner brace proved decisive in a game which produced a limited number of chances from open play.

The Bann striker has a habit of scoring important goals and it was his hat-trick that helped the Academy defeat the holders, Sullivan Upper, at the semi-final stage.

However, Royal & Prior produced a battling display and, with better finishing, could easily have sent the game into extra-time near the end when their opponents were reduced to 10 men for as many minutes and nine briefly.

The Donegal side trailed early on but levelled matters before half-time before succumbing to Rowe’s decisive goal, which was scored in the 62nd minute from his team’s seventh penalty-corner.

Royal & Prior actually started the game marginally better but from Bann’s first incursion into opposition territory in the fifth minute they forced the opening set-piece and Rowe sent the ball high into the net.

Twelve minutes later, Rowe had another opportunity from a similar situation but, this time he sent the ball wide and then had an effort well saved by the Royal & Prior keeper Sbusiso Ogwudile.

But within seconds, the Raphoe school, who have never won the famous trophy, were back on level terms when team captain, Alexander Tinney, fired the ball home from the edge of the circle into the corner of the net for the equaliser.

Buoyed by that goal, it was Royal & Prior who started the second-half stronger and Luke Witherow sent a snap-shot narrowly past the far post in the 38th minute.

They then had a let-off when Rowe’s penalty-corner drag flick crashed off the crossbar in the 52nd minute and then, 60 seconds later, he sent the ball wide from another set-piece.

In the 55th minute Academy defender, Kyle Marshall ran half the length of the pitch and sent a backhand shot narrowly wide after he had played a swift one-two.

With 12 minutes left, Banbridge won their sixth penalty-corner but, on this occasion, Rowe’s effort was well saved and Royal & Prior must have sensed an opportunity to capitalise when their opponents had a man sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes after a foul.

More drama was to follow when Bann were briefly down to nine players following another yellow card, but from the penalty-corner that followed Witherow’s close -range shot was smothered by Co Down keeper Luke Roleston at the base of the post.

Instead, it Banbridge who scored when they were a man down as Rowe found the roof of the net for what proved to be the crucial goal in an entertaining game.

Royal & Prior finished the game in Banbridge territory but they were unable to find an equaliser although Mark Buchanan went close in the dying seconds.

Banbridge Academy: Luke Roleston; Ryan Simms; James Anderson; Mark Barlow; Dylan Cowan; Joel Reid; Kyle Marshall; Phillip Campbell; Nathan Liggett; Jake Rowe; Charlie Norris; subs: Edward Rowe; Callum Gibson Lewis Bingham; Chris Curry; Harry Lockhart; Scott Dale (GK)

Royal and Prior: Sbusiso Ogwudile; Jordan Devenney; Tom Eaton; James Roulston; Ben Wallace; Luke Witherow; Mark Buchanan; Alexander Tinney; Jamie McKinney; Jack Pearson; Peter Scott; subs: Jake Watt; Zack West; Jonny Porter; James Wilson; Luke Porter.

Umpires: Eamonn McFerran, Kieran McGoldrick.