Lurgan College were crowned All-Ireland Schools hockey champions last Friday in Dublin to become the first school ever two win back to back titles.
In a fiercely contested tournament the College girls, like last year, won each of their matches against the other four provincial champions, remaining in control of their own destiny throughout.
The first game saw Lurgan College pitted against Crescent Comprehensive. An early Kathryn Edgar goal gave Lurgan the advantage, but Crescent levelled a short time later. With a number of seasoned internationals on their team, Crescent showed their experience in winning a penalty corner midway through the first half, from which their captain scored to surge ahead. Almost immediately the Lurgan players were stung into response by winning a corner and Hannah Grieve made no mistake from the edge of the circle with a blistering shot. A quick switch to move Tara McIlwaine into the forward line paid off in the second half when the ball was crossed into the circle and Tara converted from close range to seal the game 3-2.
In their second game of the day Lurgan College met Kilkenny College where they scored two goals either side of half time. Special mention must go to Jill Costley, Alex Hurst and Louise McKitterick for their instrumental defensive work and their quick counter attacking which provided the platform for midfield and forward dominance of the match. Scorers were sisters Jenny and Julie Morrow, Hannah Grieve and young Serena Hamilton who had been skilfully assisted by Holly McAdam.
With tired legs the players took on Salerno from Connaught in their third match. Rebecca McShane and Chloe Neville marshalled the defence superbly well, while Judith Edgar and Sammi Bann covered a huge amount of ground in midfield to link defence to attack. Michaela McNally in nets was called upon several times but her decisive movements thwarted any attack that Salerno could muster. Goal scorers in this game included Kathryn Edgar, Samantha Bann, Jill Costley and Tara McIlwaine.
At this point the team’s energy reserves were running low, and with a one match break before their final game, a difficult task to refuel and recover became priority. The final opponents, St. Andrews College, had the benefit of a two match break to recover. The College players knew a win or a draw was needed to secure the title and retain the trophy but were also aware of the repercussions should St. Andrews win.
Both sides were reluctant to concede an inch in the opening exchanges and it became a midfield battle. Hannah Grieve led by example with clever decisions designed to gain territory and allow spells of recovery for her team’s exhausted legs. Kathryn Edgar and Alex Hurst hassled and harried the St. Andrews midfield and created the pressure needed for Julie and Jenny Morrow to launch into the attacking circle to test the Andrew’s keeper. At the other end, Naomi Costley was busier than she had been to date and she pulled off several important saves to deny the host team the lead. More than once she came out of her net to close down St. Andrew’s strikers, reducing the opportunity for a clean shot on target.
Midway through the first half Julie Morrow dispossessed an Andrew’s defender and broke forwards down the right flank before slipping a reverse pass to Judith Edgar who was supporting from midfield. Judith then fired a ball in to Jenny Morrow who opted to spin onto her reverse side, where she unleashed a technically difficult shot that thundered past the goalkeeper’s ear and into the back of the net.
St Andrews were prepared to throw everything they had and they fought back furiously in the second half. Lurgan matched every move and kept their discipline. Early in the second period Kathryn Edgar latched on to a fantastic pass from Samantha Bann and unleashed a terrific shot which deflected off a defenders stick and into the roof of the net. However a puzzling umpiring decision over ruled the seemingly legitimate goal and Lurgan maintained their narrow lead.
This decision was influential in encouraging the vocal Lurgan support to become even louder and with every chant the players dug deep to lift their weary legs and battle on. When the final whistle sounded those same supporters, made up of pupils who had travelled down that day, parents and friends, launched a pitch invasion.
Alongside Royal School Armagh, Lurgan College now become the most successful school in the history of this competition, with four All-Ireland titles and a retention of the trophy for two consecutive years. No other school in Irish hockey history can claim that. This team have proven hard work and determination can and does achieve results. The squad have had a fantastic season, starting with winning the Senior Schools
Tournament in September, followed by the Senior Schools Cup in March. It is hoped again a clean sweep of trophies can be achieved if they can also retain the Mid-Ulster cup and League titles over the coming weeks.
The school thank all of the businesses who so kindly sponsored them as part of their fund raising efforts towards going to the All-Ireland tournament. The response from the local and wider community has been overwhelming and the players and staff appreciate every effort and contribution.
Ulster and All Ireland Squad Cup winning Squad 2014: Hannah Grieve (captain), Jill Costley (V-Captain), Judith Edgar, Julie Morrow, Naomi Costley,
Louise McKitterick, Alex Hurst, Samantha Bann, Rebecca McShane, Holly McAdam, Kathryn Edgar,
Chloe Neville, Tara McIlwaine, Michaela McNally, Jenny Morrow, Serena Hamilton.