Banbridge Academy hero Jake Rowe had to use all his experience to guide his side to McCullough Cup success.
The Banbridge Hockey Club first team player struck from two short corners with his first and final efforts of the day. There were five unsuccessful attempts in between and Rowe admits he had to fight not to let those overcome him.
“I wasn’t on the best of form with them,” he said. “I definitely got a bit frustrated and it was annoying but I’m just happy to get two of them in.
“I was so pleased when the second one went in. I turned round to the crowd and could let go.
“It was great for everyone coming down from school to see us win. That really helps us, especially when Royal & Prior had a good crowd down as well. They help us to get over the line.
“It feels great. The lads put in a lot of effort in training over the last couple of months. To lose the All-Irelands was very, very upsetting so to come back with a win here is really pleasing for all of us.”
Man of the Match Rowe had been thwarted on several occasions by top drawer saves from Royal and Prior’s goalkeeping superstar Sbusiso Ogwudile - making it hard to believe he is only 14 and has another four years of hockey at school level.
“All credit to their keeper, he had a blinder,” said Academy coach Mark Cordner. “I thought he was fantastic. Jake put two out of seven corners away so the stats weren’t bad at all. He’s very capable. I’m delighted for Jake. He’s worked very hard for us and the club and he’s done very well.”
With Sinton’s At The Bridge sponsored Academy picking up some late cards and briefly going down to nine men, it was backs to the wall stuff. As much of a shining light as Rowe was in attack, his co-captain Kyle Marshall was just as important at the back, ushering in what was, for him, an extra special victory.
“It’s pretty nice to get all the senior titles I can win at school to add to the All-Ireland and Burney Cup wins last year,” he said. “There were a few times late in the game where I thought they might get a goal. When we went down to nine men, it was a case of us just sitting in and trying to make sure we held out.
“There was a wee bit of panic but it was really just trying to think who we were supposed to be picking up and making sure they didn’t have any men free.”
Royal netted their equaliser through a stunning strike by skipper Alexander Tinney as he smashed into the bottom corner on the turn during the first half.
And he has far from given up on securing a first ever senior title for his Raphoe school.
“There will be a big focus through Christmas to come back in and prepare for the Burney Cup and maybe we can be here again in a few months,” he said.
“It’s unbelievable to be here. It’s 16 years since the school last got to this final so to do that again is pretty special.
“We really pushed when they went down to nine men but then we’re coming up against an Irish Under 18 goalkeeper in Luke Roleston.
“To lose out is hard, of course, but Banbridge had the better of us.”
And that was largely down to the typically shining displays from Banbridge Academy’s co-captains Kyle Marshall and Jake Rowe.
“That’s why we’ve got a co-captaincy,” said coach Cordner. “Jake captained the All Ireland final and Kyle captained today. It’s about double leadership. Two people are always going to be better at the job than one.
“They’re two very important players not just for us but for the wider Banbridge community as well.”
This was Academy’s eighth McCullough Cup win, leaving them seven behind record holders Royal Belfast Academical Institution.