HOCKEY: Banbridge Academy girls on the edge of glory

Banbridge Academy celebrate their landmark semi-final success over Sullivan. Pic: Presseye
Banbridge Academy celebrate their landmark semi-final success over Sullivan. Pic: Presseye
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Banbridge Academy’s girls hockey team are determined to take their chance to write their names in school folklore this week.

They take on Wallace High School at Lisnagarvey’s Comber Road in the Ulster Senior Schoolgirls’ Cup decider tomorrow (pass-back 2pm).

Gina Woods in action for Banbridge Academy in their semi-final success. Pic: Rowland White / PressEye'School

Gina Woods in action for Banbridge Academy in their semi-final success. Pic: Rowland White / PressEye'School

Neither school have won the historic competition in its 110 year history.

Now coach Neil Madeley is determined to put that record right.

He said: “The school is steeped in sporting success with the boys and they have worked so hard for that. This is an opportunity for the girls to put themselves up there as well.

“It’s the pinnacle of Ulster Schoolgirls’ Hockey and for some girls, it could be the biggest stage they ever get to play on.

Banbridge Academy captain Orla Thompson. Pic: Rowland White / PressEye'School Hockey

Banbridge Academy captain Orla Thompson. Pic: Rowland White / PressEye'School Hockey

“The crowd is usually close to 1,000 people, which few hockey games in Ireland can match.

“There will be a lot of nerves and it can come down to who handles those better. We have to try and take everything in our stride but that’s obviously easy for me to say.”

For five members of the squad, all of the feelings of the day will be very familiar, bar, they hope, the experience after the final whistle.

That’s because the school’s first appearance in the occasion ended in defeat two years ago. Captain Orla Thompson, Charley Brush, Katie McKee, Emma Gregson and Gina Woods all started as Sullivan came from behind to win 2-1.

Katie McKee will have a key role to play in Wednesday's final. Pic: Rowland White / PressEye'School Hockey

Katie McKee will have a key role to play in Wednesday's final. Pic: Rowland White / PressEye'School Hockey

“They’re now the senior players and we’ve had a chat with them about helping the younger girls through the whole day,” said Madeley.

“Getting to two finals and a semi-final in three years shows how hard the girls have been working. We have that strength in depth with good young girls coming through.

“It’s a credit to Mr McLaughlin (Principal) and the staff for the management of it all as well. They have been fantastic.”

Madeley pinpointed midfield trio Katie McKee, Emma Gregson and Orla Thompson as the engine room that has the potential to fire his side to success.

“They will do a lot of hard graft that everybody else can feed off,” he said. “I haven’t seen a better midfield in schoolgirls’ hockey when they are on their game. It was a big win for the girls psychologically because Sullivan seemed to have our number in big games at that venue in recent years.

“We went into it as favourites as well, which maybe knocked us a little bit. We didn’t play as well as we can but we got the job done and that’s the most important thing.”

Bann have played final opponents Wallace once already this season and stormed to a 4-0 success in a friendly before Christmas.

A repeat scoreline, Madeley admits, is highly unlikely.

“We had one of those days where we played well and the ball ran for us,” he said. “They didn’t play to their strengths but they have got the players to hurt us.

“People looking at that might see us as favourites but finals are finals and you have no right to win anything.”

The winners of Wednesday’s final will have the privilege of hosting the All Ireland Schoolgirls Championships on March 23-24.

While Madeley accept that’s an enticing “carrot” hanging on front of their eyes, he says the girls’ focus is firmly fixed on this week’s landmark tie.

And the coach will have a full squad to choose from with Lauren McGaw back to full fitness.

“We have the strength in depth and it’s good to have Lauren back in as well,” he said. “Competition has been good and the team selection is a good problem to have.”

No doubt it could be a landmark day for girls hockey in the school and in the town, with Madeley’s team again on the brink of an historic achievement.

Have a look at our Wallace High School final preview here.