Banbridge Academy students have secured landmark silverware following a first-ever John Waring Cup triumph.
Representing Ulster in the under 14s’ All-Ireland finals, alongside Cookstown High School, the Academy players finished unbeaten across five high-stakes games - scoring eight goals in the process and a clean sweep of clean sheets.
A 3-2 defeat of Cookstown in the Ulster schools’ Ferris Cup confirmed Academy’s spot within the Irish showpiece.
Preparations for the demanding All-Ireland programme put the focus on physical training alongside tactical work in anticipation of five fixtures within a single day’s play.
A 3-0 defeat of Cookstown provided the perfect start following Matthew McKee’s brace either side of a Spencer Collie strike.
Game two set up a tussle with Munster’s Ashton College and it proved honours even following the scoreless draw to maintain Academy’s unbeaten start.
Leinster’s Dublin High School served up the third challenge and a 2-0 victory arrived courtesy of Collie and McKee.
The welcome lunch break presented an opportunity to rest, reflect and refocus for the closing stages.
Victory by 2-0 over Munster’s Bandon Grammar arrived off a superb Academy team performance considered one of the highlights of the season.
A third of the tournament by Collie handed Academy early control before McKee managed to maintain his fine scoring form.
Academy, as a result, entered the final hurdle needing only to avoid defeat to Leinster’s Wesley College to wrap up the coveted prize.
McKee’s fifth finish in as many games broke the deadlock with nine minutes left to play in what proved the sole goal.
The choice of Friends’ School in Lisburn as the venue for the first time proved fitting given Waring’s connections as a former prep principal. The links extended to the Academy coaching staff of Mark Cordner and Colin Walker as former colleagues of Waring’s.
“I would like to formally thank this group of talented and dedicated athletes who have pushed themselves well beyond their years,” said coach Cordner. “The level of commitment from these young men is simply outstanding and the hundreds of hours invested in them, from not only the school but also Banbridge and Portadown hockey clubs, has paid back aplenty.
“The target was to get to the Ferris final, we knew that allowed us entry to the Irish finals and would extend preparations for the European Performance Tour in August.
“To win both is down to all the players and indeed well beyond, with Bruce McCandless being a massive addition to the school with midweek support for myself.
“This, coupled with the wonderful work Gareth Lennox, Scott McCandless and Paul Bennett bring to the group, means we stand a chance of competing moving forward in Irish hockey.
“Without these vital components, today would not have been possible.
“John Waring was an amazing man and what he did for Ulster schoolboys’ hockey as a chairman was incredible.
“We are so very honoured to win this Irish Schools title.”
Walker, the Academy master in charge, highlighted the significance of the success.
“It’s so gratifying to see the school lift this trophy and create yet another significant milestone for boys’ hockey at the Academy,” he said. “I would like to thank all the parents, supporters and Mr McLoughlin and the school staff for the support they continue to give to school sport.
“The boys will remember today for the rest of their lives.”
BANBRIDGE ACADEMY: Conor Part, Joshua Moles, Morgan Murphy, Matthew Stevenson, Thomas Cunningham, Tom Hamilton, Tommy Dobson, Jake Rainer, Lewis Cousins, Simon Ferris, Ben Pollock, Spencer Collie, Matthew McKee, Matthew Spence, Daniel McHugh, Ben Walker, Ben Farson.