Banbridge Academy to meet Ballyclare High in Ulster Schoolgirls’ Senior Cup final

Banbridge Academy celebrate their win over Strathearn in the semi-final
Banbridge Academy celebrate their win over Strathearn in the semi-final

Banbridge Academy will meet Ballyclare High in the Ulster Senior Schoolgirls’ Cup final at Lisnagarvey on March 6 after two thrilling semis at the same venue on Wednesday.

Academy defeated Strathearn 1-0 and then Ballyclare staged a late show to beat holders Rainey by the same scoreline.

Bann started favourites but Strathearn put up a terrific battle belying their underdog status.

Bidding to progress to the final for the first time since 1992, the Belfast school had two shots cleared off the line and a goal disallowed, winning the the penalty corner count 8-3.

Nadia Benallal was the heroine of the hour, scoring the all-important early goal that eventually won the game although she also missed a penalty stroke shortly after the restart.

Academy coach Neil Madeley felt that the big occasion perhaps got to his players.

“Cup semi-finals can be nervy affairs and so it proved and rather than steady ourselves with that early goal, it seemed to spur Strathearn on,” he said.

“They had us under a lot of pressure at times in the game and I thought Ellen Reid had a great game for us at the back, thankfully.”

After a cagey opening spell, Bann took the lead in the 12th minute when Benallal fired home a rebound from the right channel after Katie McDonald’s shot from the first penalty corner of the game had been blocked.

However, instead of settling any early nerves for their opponents, that setback seemed to be just the incentive Strathearn needed as they mounted a series of attacks.

Almost immediately, Jenny Wilson had a shot taken of the line by Holly Hannah and then the Strathearn striker had a set-piece effort saved by Rebecca Spence.

From another corner, Kate Wills’s deflected shot was stopped by a Bann defender close to the line and then came that disallowed goal.

Erin Stewart’s effort crashed off the post from yet another set-piece and Wills knocked in the rebound but the ‘goal’ was ruled out because the ball hadn’t gone outside the circle before the initial shot was taken.

Six minutes into the second half, Academy were awarded a penalty stroke after ‘feet’ on the line but Benallal’s strike went wide.

Strathearn continued to have the edge after that, winning three more corners but they were unable to find an equaliser.

Ballyclare left it late to book their place in the final for the first time in seven years with a 1-0 win over holders Rainey Endowed.

There were just two minutes remaining when, after being under pressure for the majority of the game, the Co Antrim girls netted the winner through Rachel Hill.

Until that point, Rainey had the better of the few opportunities on offer but Ballyclare goalkeeper Laura Chestnutt stopped everything that came her way

Erin Anderson, Sara Semple and Betty Scott all had half-chances for Rainey well dealt with by Chestnutt in the opening 30 minutes.

McCullough was denied by Rainey keeper Dawn Francis six minutes after the break and four minutes later Chestnutt stopped another effort from Semple.

Then with two minutes left, Ballyclare won only their second penalty corner of the match and after McCullough’s initial shot was saved, the ball broke to Hill who fired in the rebound for the winner.