BANBRIDGE Academy Firsts, sponsored by The Belmont Hotel, began their defense of the Burney Cup against Ballyclare High School at Havelock Park on Friday.
Ballyclare are relative Burney Cup novices and after defeating Wellington College in round one they faced the daunting task of a trip to Havelock Park to face the Academy boys on their home patch.
With Cookstown’s Ewan Butler in charge, Ballyclare have a coach with plenty of top-level playing experience and he will have been aiming to draw on all of his big-game knowhow in his attempts to thwart the Academy’s progress in this year’s competition.
The Academy began on the front foot, bossing possession and moving the ball smartly around the pitch probing for weaknesses in the opposition defense. With the game only five minutes old, The Academy won their first short-corner of the afternoon. Matthew Bell’s powerful drag-flick was illegally prevented from crossing the goal line by a defender leading to the award of a penalty stroke. Bell took the responsibility and made no mistake from the spot.
Short-corner number two followed a short time later. From a variation Ben Cosgrove’s slap-hit beat the keeper and The Academy were two goals to the good.
The Ballyclare defense were struggling to deal with the pace of The Academy attack but they showed great determination in their play and a combination of well-timed, last ditch tackles and some fine saves from the away goalkeeper kept the scoreline down until mid-way through the half.
The third goal came after a poor defensive clearance from the Ballyclare sweeper was collected wide on The Academy right by Johnny McKee. His direct run to the top of the circle was capped by a stunning reverse-stick strike that rippled the net and left the ‘keeper floundering.
The fourth goal arrived just before the half-time break. This was a real team effort with the move starting from deep in The Academy half. Bell’s precise aerial found Peter Brown in space on the right and the dynamic midfielder was able to smartly bring the ball under control before picking out Cosgrove on the edge of the visitors’ circle. Cosgrove’s smart turn and lay-off gave Rory Woods the chance to unleash a reverse-stick shot and he made no mistake to ensure The Academy took a four-goal lead into the half-time interval.
During the break, Academy coach Steven Dawson brought Clarke Neville, Craig Campbell and Matthew Warnock into the line-up for the second half. Having represented the Academy Seconds in the McCullough Cup, these young players were eager to make their mark at First XI level. No doubt the standard of their individual performances will give Dawson plenty to ponder when it comes to his next team selection.
The second half continued in the same vain as the first. The Academy had plenty of the ball and continued to move it sharply around the pitch. They won two short corners during the opening minutes of the half and whilst Brown deflected the first over the bar, the second found the net – Cosgrove with a rasping strike from the top of the circle.
The sixth goal arrived a short time later, that man Cosgrove starting a move that included a trademark cross-field run by Captain Owen Magee. When Magee’s shot was saved Cosgrove was there for the rebound. However, the visiting ‘keeper managed to block the rebound and he was desperately unlucky to see the ball fall to Craig Campbell who didn’t waste his chance to get on the score sheet.
Campbell was relishing his opportunity to shine on the big stage and with twelve minutes left on the clock, he doubled his personal tally for the day. Cosgrove’s cross from the right was crying out for a back-post finish and sensing the opportunity Campbell slid in to execute a reverse-stick deflection passed the stranded ‘keeper.
Three minutes later, Cosgrove claimed his hat-trick. Andrew Bingham sent in a cross from the right and when the ball broke to the lively midfielder his snap-shot beat the ‘keeper from mid-circle. Not content with three goals, Cosgrove scored his fourth and The Academy’s ninth when he took a quick free on the 25 and after driving into the circle he lashed a fierce shot into the bottom corner of the net.
With two minutes remaining, The Academy managed to grab another two goals. Number ten came from a Thomas Sturgeon line-ball that found Warnock wide on the left. Warnock passed to Cosgrove and he laid it off to the on-rushing Sturgeon. Sturgeon’s pass across goal found Bingham at the back-post and the big midfielder finished the move with aplomb.
Number 11 came from the stick of Warnock after a short-corner breakdown. The young forward in the right place at the right time to pick up the loose ball and finish from close range.
The Academy can be pleased with their win but clearly they will face much tougher challenges if they are to win the competition. However, with the squad evolving and the system of play improving they can look forward to the draw for round three with plenty of optimism.
Squad: M Anderson (GK), P Bingham (GK), A Bingham, P Bennington, M Bell (VC), T Sturgeon, C Neville, J McKee, P Brown, B Cosgrove, R Woods, O Magee (C), J McCague, C Campbell, M Warnock.