Katie at the double as the Academy girls charge through to the final four

The Banbridge Academy girls' hockey team who will take on Sullivan in the Schools' Cup final.
The Banbridge Academy girls' hockey team who will take on Sullivan in the Schools' Cup final.

Banbridge Academy girls’ hockey team cruised through to the semi-finals of the Senior Schools’ Cup on Saturday with a convincing 3-0 victory over Ballymena Academy.

They’re now preparing to take on Ballyclare High School at Lisnagarvey at 2pm on Wednesday after a Sarah Russell strike and a Katie McKee double sealed their weekend win.

A large crowd of supporters from both schools had assembled on an ideal morning for hockey hoping for a cut and thrust cup match on Saturday and they were not to be disappointed.

Bann were hoping that six weeks of inactivity on the match front would not hamper their ability to produce their best hockey whilst the visitors had managed to find some match practice despite the recent frost and snow conditions.

Both sides contain potential match winners and a close contest was expected as their match records this season were very similar.

Ballymena slowly came into the game and their strong running midfield gave the Bann defence a few nervous moments.

After 15 minutes, some sublime skill from Katie McKee nearly opened up the Ballymena defence and a carbon copy three minutes produced the opening goal with Sarah Russell slotting home from close range after McKee’s initial shot had been saved.

Bann were enjoying the lion’s share of possession with Emma Gregson and Orla Thompson proving real thorn in the visitors defence but despite their efforts they could not extend their lead.

Several Bann corners were expertly saved by the Ballymena keeper and the visitors were proving a real handful for the Bann defence on the counter attack. Only some fine defending by the back four of Quinn, McKenna, Woods, and Brush preserved Bann’s slender lead.

Both sides were glad to catch their breath at the half-time break and a tactical switch by Ballymena saw them look to gain the advantage in midfield but to their credit Bann upped their game in this area and matched them in every aspect.

Ballymena did enjoy a period of pressure and only some expert defending prevented any clear cut chances being created.

Having weathered this pressure, a superb run by Gregson resulted in a short corner and McKee duly dispatched the ball into the back of the net to extend Bann’s lead.

Ballymena to their credit went all out to get back in the game but Bann further extended their advantage when McKee’s effort from another short corner six minutes from the end was deflected into the roof of the net.

Ballymena didn’t give up and forced a short corner in the remaining minutes but Bann managed to scramble it away.

The final whistle then brought an enthralling contest to a close and all credit to both teams and umpires for serving up a feast of what all is good in Ulster schoolgirl hockey – commitment, sporting respect, and a huge amount of skill.

The squad would like to thank the umpires, all the support, including Mrs Camblin and Mr McLoughlin. Special thanks must go to the coach Neil Madeley and Sheree Totton for all their help on the day.