ALL-IRELAND champions Lurgan College 1st XI saw their dream of retaining their title dashed on Wednesday when they were beaten 2-1 in golden goal extra time by Ballyclare HS.
This was a pulsating final, living up to the pre-match hype many expected and played in front of over 2,000 screaming fans at a packed Lisnagarvey.
In the end the winning goal was scored from a volleyed shot by Ballyclare in the second period of extra time and despite queries surrounding it’s legitimacy, the umpires were satisfied that it should stand.
The College team dominated the first half, with the Ballyclare keeper having to pull off several good saves, demonstrating her reputed quality. However, on 20 minutes, young Alex Hurst went on an attacking run from left back and fired an inch perfect pass to Jill Edgar who made no mistake in driving the ball into the goals to take the lead.
Ballyclare seemed to have no response and the title holders maintained this pressure until the half time whistle, but Ballyclare’s excellent defence held firm, only conceding one penalty corner throughout.
After the half time break Ballyclare were the team that came out with nothing to lose, and in fact looked like a completely different side as they dominated much of the second half. They won seven penalty corners during this time but found difficulty in breaking down the well-organised College defence. However, the title holders looked increasingly vulnerable to leaking a goal as the Ballyclare onslaught appeared unstoppable.
With just over seven minutes remaining, Ballyclare stepped up to their eighth penalty corner, and rifled a blistering shot into the nets to draw level.
The game went in to extra time and in the first period the College team regained their composure and took the offensive against Ballyclare. Again it was the Ballyclare keeper who was the heroine of the day as she saved two great penalty corner strikes from Jill Costly and Jill Edgar and managed to do enough to clear her lines from some closely contested circle play.
The second period of extra time ensued, with both sides striving for the goal that was needed to bring about the result. At this stage both teams had players succumbing to cramp, such was the intensity and pace of play. Mid way through the half, Ballyclare went on a piercing run and fired a ball in to the College circle from the right. Keeper Naomi Costley defended well, blocking the initial shot, but Ballyclare had numbers in attack and the rebound, which had taken a deflection into the air, was volleyed by Ballyclare into the net from a chest high shot.
For the first time in their history, Ballyclare knew that they would have their name on the Ulster Senior Schools Cup this season, and in spite of a period of uncertainty at the end as the legitimacy of the winning goal was discussed, Ballyclare continued to celebrate their success in front of their delighted supporters.
Losing captain Jill Edgar, in spite of huge disappointment, showed great composure in her speech as she congratulated her opponents, wishing them luck in the All-Irelands, which they now have the privilege of hosting.
Former Irish international Julian Stevenson of Eurosports hockey shop also awarded Alex Hurst player of the match for her magnificent performance at left back for the College. Although Alex was one of the youngest players on the pitch, her tackling was effective and her penetrating runs caused all sorts of problems for Ballyclare throughout the 80 minutes of play.
In fact all of the Lurgan College players brought much credit to their school with their performance in one of the best schoolgirl’s finals of recent years. The margins at this level between winning and losing are very slight. Despite being labelled favourites the whole way through the cup campaign, Wednesday’s match proved that in a cup final, anything can happen.
This is a relatively young team, with four from the squad moving on to higher education next year. Hopefully for those remaining, the experiences over the past three seasons will be used to spur them on to reclaim the coveted trophy again in 2013 and this time reward the faithful Lurgan College supporters who turn out in force every week.
2011-2012 1st XI Cup Squad
Jill Edgar (captain), Gemma McBride (vice-captain), Rachel Lauder, Aimee Williamson, Bethany Barr, Ellen Mullen, Serena Barr, Chloe McCann, Shannon Davidson, Gemma McKitterick, Hannah Grieve, Jill Costley, Julie Morrow, Naomi Costley, Louise McKitterick, Alex Hurst.