Now for the All Ireland trophy

Lurgan College Hockey team celebrate vafter winning the Schools Cup. INLM11-203
Lurgan College Hockey team celebrate vafter winning the Schools Cup. INLM11-203

LURGAN College will once again be representing Ulster in the All-Ireland Kate Russell Schools’ Tournament in Kilkenny following a 1-0 win over Victoria College in last Wednesday’s final at Lisnagarvey.

Gemma McKitterick proved the hero as she struck with just over nine minutes to go after latching on to a defence splitting pass from Chloe McCann and aiming wide of the keeper with a first time shot.

This was the only goal of the game for the huge four figure crowd that turned out to watch the title decider, but it was a long time coming as the experienced College team had the bulk of possession. In fact despite going into the game as favourites, the College players had trouble breaking down a well organised Victoria defence. A combination of wayward finishing, and rock solid defending in a backs-to-the-wall Victoria performance kept the game out of reach for the College until the last ten minutes.

Given the amount of possession the College team had, they fully deserved the win, and perhaps if an earlier goal had been scored, it may have been a completely different picture (and a more convincing scoreline), but when a game goes scoreless for so long, there is always the chance that it could go the distance and be decided on penalty strokes. However, Gemma’s goal denied Victoria the opportunity to step up to the spot with more favourable odds, the way they did against Ballyclare HS in the semi-final.

In the opening ten minutes, the College players started well, taking the game to Victoria, but the nerves of the big occasion were evident, and finishing in the circle was less clinical than their customary display. Co-captain Chloe McCann twisted her ankle during this period and came off for a short time, before re-entering the onslaught of the Victoria defence. The Victoria keeper was in inspirational form and brought off terrific saves from Hannah Grieve and Bethany Barr mid way through the first half. A short time later Chloe had an opportunity to break the deadlock after being set up by Serena Barr but this was missed and the teams went into the break on level terms.

Shortly after the re-start the College team won an early penalty corner and changed tactics. Bethany Barr’s blistering strike was deflected over the crossbar by some timely defending. Bethany was thwarted a short time later when a second strike was deflected onto the bar and over the top, and when sister Serena raced through moments later and sent a great opportunity just wide of the post.

But the pressure finally paid off when Gemma McKitterick lost her defender and raced into the circle to convert a great goal with an early strike, past an outstanding keeper who had been drawn slightly wide.

The strength of the Lurgan College defence was never really tested in this game, and uniquely, for a cup final, Naomi Costley in nets never touched the ball after her warm up. Shannon Davidson and Alex Hurst were instrumental in closing down any sign of a Victoria attack, frequently overloading and attacking themselves, when the opportunity arose. Jill Costley too was not called upon to the same extent at the back, while Serena Barr was at her busiest going forward on her trademark runs from defence.

The 1-0 scoreline, although a little disappointing and frustrating, did not spoil the players celebrations as the final whistle blew, and the realisation of what they had achieved dawned. The team now travel to Kilkenny to contest the Kate Russell All-Ireland Championships, which they last won in 2011. Indeed, Lurgan College also secured ‘Katie’ in 2003 for the first time, and it is hoped that this will be a ten year anniversary worth remembering.

Thanks to all of the supporters who travelled to Lisnagarvey and braved the elements and for the messages of support throughout the competition.