Banbridge Academy Boys’ Hockey 1st XI bid to win the All-Ireland Schoolboy Championships for a sixth time when they played Newtown School from Waterford in the final last Friday, proved one step too far.
The Academy boys have played in three of the last four finals, being crowned champions when the competition was last held in Ulster in 2015, and they came so close to repeating the feat this year against all the odds.
The Academy lads, ably coached by Simon Jess, got their campaign off to a winning start with a solid 2-0 victory over Ulster rivals Bangor Grammar.
Day two saw two more games at QUB. In the first, the Academy played a physical side from Kilkenny College. Despite Kilkenny seeing a lot of possession, the Bann men used the ball well and the dominance of Mark Barlow in midfield saw a comfortable 4-1 victory for the Ulster men, with two goals each for Edward Rowe and Philip Campbell. Game 2 was the group decider against Dublin powerhouse Wesley College. Despite trailing by a goal going into the second half Banbridge kept pressing.
The pressure finally told as they were awarded two penalty strokes. 15-year-old Edward Rowe showed his maturity to score both strokes and send the Bann crowd wild as they snatched a place in Friday’s semis as group winners.
With no other local school making it out of their group, Ulster’s hopes in the semi-finals rested with the Academy when they took on record winners St Andrew’s School from Dublin. Bann took an early lead from that man Edward Rowe again. St Andrew’s scored either side of half time to go in front, leading to frantic attack play from Bann as they searched for an equaliser. With only a matter of seconds to go, an infringement on the edge of the circle led to a final chance for the Academy as the penalty corner was awarded. Rowe held his nerve and sent the game to a penalty shoot-out, with Bann emerging victorious.
After the drama of the last two games, the legs were sore as Bann prepared for a final against the unknown quantity of Newtown School. The boys from Waterford scored from a penalty corner late in the first half. The Academy struggled throughout the second half to keep their rhythm going as the players tired rapidly after the tough games against the Dublin schools. Newtown were defending for their lives but Bann couldn’t muster enough spirit to dig out an equaliser and Newtown celebrated at the final whistle much to the despair of the valiant Academy lads. Getting to the final and beating some great sides along the way was a fantastic achievement, far beyond the pre-tournament expectations.
The challenge now is for the boys to lift themselves for the remainder of their McCullough Cup campaign which continues this week with a match at Cookstown High.