Holders on track to retain the cup

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HOLDERS Lurgan College first eleven are on course to retain the Senior Schools Cup.

The Ulster and Irish schools champions marched into this year’s Belfast Telegraph Senior Schools’ Cup final with an emphatic 2-0 win over Methodist College, Belfast.

The young College side, who had beaten Dalriada in the quarter-final a week earlier courtesy of goals from Jill Edgar and Hannah Grieve, looked the dominant force for the majority of the game, however Methody’s pace meant that the holders could not be complacent.

Indeed, despite enjoying most of the possession, the College girls had to wait until almost half-time before they scored their opening goal, largely as a result of the heroics of the Methody keeper, who time and again denied the Lurgan attack any reward for their efforts.

The College patience paid off however when Gemma McBride picked up a beautifully weighted ball from midfield and drove along the backline before she slipped it to Chloe McCann behind the penalty spot who made no mistake in firing it wide of the keeper.

Ellen Mullen maintained the wave of pressure with her work rate up front and Bethany Barr was outstanding in marshalling the Lurgan midfield, coming out the winner in her individual battle with the Methody captain.

Newcomers to the team, Shannon Davidson and Alex Hurst, kept control of any nerves they were feeling and repeatedly cleared their lines in defence.

Stalwarts Serena Barr and Jill Costley dominated the centre of defence with their fierce tackling and use of ariel ball to expose their opponent’s defence.

Methody threw everything forward after the half-time whistle and enjoyed a ten minute spell of dominance, winning several penalty corners in succession.

However the experienced Lurgan defence quickly snuffed out any spark of threat and weathered the temporary storm.

As the second half progressed it was the College team’s turn to lift the pace with captain Jill Edgar unfortunate to fire a shot wide and an open net opportunity also just pushed wide.

Aimee Williamson ran down every ball and pressurised the Methody defenders into making mistakes.

Lurgan’s hard work paid off when they succeeded in winning a flurry of penalty corner opportunities at the opposite end. A straight strike from Hannah Grieve was saved illegally on the line by a Methody defender and the umpire awarded a stroke. True to form, Hannah herself elected to take the stroke and calmly despatched it beyond the keeper’s reach to leave Methody’s dreams of reaching a cup final fading.

As the final whistle was blown the dominant performance and result was in stark contrast to the nail biting encounter against Banbridge Academy in last year’s semi-final where sudden death penalty strokes had to be taken to decide the finalists.

For those who witnessed both matches, there was much relief that the experience that these young players now have, as a result of last season, stood them in good stead against tough opponents.

In the other semi-final old rivals Ballyclare HS narrowly edged out Strathearn to set up a showpiece Lurgan versus Ballyclare final at Lisnagarvey on Wednesday, February 29, starting at 2pm.