Ballyclare High bid for Senior Schoolgirls’ Cup success

Ballyclare High School captain Rebecca McCullough insists most of the pressure will be on Banbridge Academy in Wednesday’s Ulster Senior Cup final at Lisnagarvey (2pm).

Monday, 4th March 2019, 11:41 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th March 2019, 10:35 am
Ballyclare High School senior girls hockey

The Co Down side, although not at their best in beating Strathearn 1-0 in the semi-final, have reached their fourth decider in as many years, having won the trophy in 2017.

Ballyclare are in their first final since 2012 when their current assistant coach, Ireland World Cup silver medallist, Zoe Wilson, scored the winning goal against Lurgan College.

So, in terms of experience of the big occasion, the Academy might have the advantage but McCullough’s team knocked out the holders Rainey Endowed in the last four.

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“We certainly didn’t play our best, but our defence were strong. We knew how to grind out a result and we took our chance when it came,” said Rebecca.

“Our team spirit is very high at the minute and that’s half the battle.

“I think beating the holders gave the girls a massive boost of confidence and looking back on the Rainey match,we were under a large amount of pressure for most of it.

“So to have come out on top was really encouraging. Everyone seemed to think we were huge underdogs, but we definitely thrived off that.”

Ballyclare’s players didn’t see much of the Banbridge semi as they were busy preparing for their own game but Rebecca and others knows some of their players, who are team mates on the Ulster Under 18 squad.

“Some of us have played with Ellen Reid and Nadia Benallal before so we know what they are capable of as individuals,” she added.

“I do think they are a very strong team and we need to give them the respect they deserve.

“A lot of them have played in the final before and so have more experience than us in that respect.

“We are in uncharted waters with a large proportion of our team and it will be a great experience.”

With a four-figure crowd expected, coping with the atmosphere on such occasions can be a challenge in itself but Rebecca and her team can’t wait to savour the moment.

“The prospect is quite overwhelming, we aren’t used to that many people coming to our matches,” she said.

“However, when the whistle goes the girls are very good at concentrating on what goes on inside the lines and blocking out any white noise.

“We’ve been training hard and it has really helped our preparation for the final although it’s just another match and we must treat it as such.

“We enjoy doing things together as a team and this cup run has brought us even closer together.

“I would say we probably are underdogs, none of the girls have been in this position before so we are going in with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“It’s a great position to be in and there is more pressure on Banbridge than us.”