Ballyclare High have their name on the Ulster Senior Schools’ Cup for the first time, after beating All Ireland reigning champions Lurgan College in a pulsating final at Lisnagarvey yesterday.
More than 2,000 thousand screaming fans ringed the pitch as one of the biggest crowds in recent years cheered on their schools.
In the end, the result came down to a piece of sublime skill from Zoe Wilson who volleyed a chest high shot into the net, in the second period of extra-time.
Lurgan College are a quality schools’ side with huge experience and they dominated the first half.
Chloe McCann fired in an early shot but the Ballyclare goalkeeper Lucy Camlin produced a very useful save.
Then in the 20th minute the superb Alex Hurst made room on the left and fired over an inch perfect pass to Jill Edgar. She played the ball off a defender’s foot but umpire Lyn Morrow played good advantage and Edgar slammed the ball into the goals.
Whatever Ballyclare coach Michelle Rainey said to her team at half-time worked, because they looked an entirely different outfit in the second 30 minutes.
In fact Ballyclare won eight penalty corners and only conceded one, but they found it hard to break down a very well organised Lurgan defence.
Twenty two minutes into the second half, Amy Cooke got time at a penalty corner and smacked in a great shot to draw level.
The game went into extra-time and in the first period it was Lurgan College who dominated.
Both Jill Costley and Jill Edgar had strong penalty corner shots very well saved by Camlin and the game went into the second period of extra time, with both sides striving for the golden goal that was required to bring a result.
Four minutes into the half the impressive Jessica West went on a good run down the right. Her cross was swept in brilliantly by Amy Jones but somehow the Lurgan keeper, Naomi Costley – who had a good game – managed to block the shot.
The ball spiralled away to the left of the circle and Wilson volleyed a chest high shot into the net.
Former Irish international Julian Stevenson, of Eurosport, gave the Player of the Match award to Lurgan’s Alex Hurst and he was absolutely right in his judgement. Hurst was magnificent at left back. Her tackling was crisp and effective and her incisive runs caused all sorts of problems. She was simply the best player on the pitch.
But this was Ballyclare’s day and they celebrated their success in front of their delighted supporters, with the added good news that they will now host the All Ireland championships towards the end of March.
This was a good day for Ulster schoolgirls’ hockey.
The losing captain Jill Edgar, in spite of obvious disappointment at the defeat, made a speech full of dignity and the successful skipper of Ballyclare High Tori Wallace was also eloquent at a time when she just wanted to celebrate.
Both the captains and all the players brought great credit to their schools.
The showpiece of the schoolgirls’ hockey calendar certainly lived up to its billing.