BANBRIDGE Academy U12 Boys hockey team, sponsored by NFU Mutual Banbridge returned to school on Tuesday as the winners of the Oxford Hockey Festival.
The boys enjoyed a four day sport packed tour taking in the best of hockey challenges matched by off the pitch fun and friendships with their Oxford counterparts.
The tour, now in its 18th year association with the Academy was one of the best in many years with the dry and cold conditions seeming to suit the hardy Academy players. They started with the flight to Birmingham and after negotiating the train journey they played four lively quarters to a combined Oxford side – which soon got rid of the travel cobwebs as they were edged out 3-2 in a very hard fought game. Every player got a great deal of pitch time and with final team selection on the Saturday evening it was the perfect springboard for Sunday’s tournament.
The Saturday morning saw the locals take in the sights and sounds of Oxford including the University buildings and local cuisine before making the short bus journey to Kassam Stadium. Here the squad enjoyed great seats to support Oxford United FC as they played their local derby against Wycombe Wanderers. The game may well have ended 1-0 to Wycombe but the Banbridge boys enjoyed their mention at half time as well as being featured in the pre match programme for their hockey prowess.
Afterwards the boys enjoyed bowling and pizza in the sports bowl – with the Saracens on the big screen so all in all a sport packed Saturday! With the news in that Banbridge had beaten Lisnagarvey in the IHL the boys returned to base to prepare for the main event - the U12 tournament.
Sunday morning breakfast as a squad was followed by the team briefing which went over squads and arrangements as well as tactics to be used throughout the tournament. This set the tone and thanks to the local Wolvercoate Association the boys were transferred the 30 minute trip to Cokethorpe Grammar school for the afternoon tournament. The squads were lead by Mr Cordner, Mr Jess and Mr Matthews with the fantastic help of Eli Baxter (Year 8) John Wilson (Year 10) and Sam McMurray (Year 10) and both launched into full swing as they aimed for first spot in each group to put them through to the quarter finals!
The A side of Luke Crory, James Orr, Ryan Simms, Harry Lockhart, Mark Barlow, Philip Campbell, Harry Farson and Josh McAdam all cruised their opening games with 2-1, 11-0 and 4-0 wins to place them safely into the quarter final stage. The strength of defence on display was backed up by speed and stealth in midfield and upfront and the boys knew Eastcote would be a tough fixture.
The B side of Jack Hutchison, Charlie Glover, John Scott, Oren Shimmons, Ross Scott, Lewis Bingham, Herbie Purce, Adam Bronte and Sam Megaw all gave it their best shot in the group stages but they missed a bagful of clear opportunities in their first game to draw 1-1. In the second and third group games the tempo improved and Sam Megaw and John Scott in particular carried the Academy forward losing to Cirencester 2-1 in the last few minutes to crash out.
But the A team, under Coach Jess went from strength to strength in their Quarter final against Eastcote. They took the early lead through captain marvel Mark Barlow – his powerful reverse strike giving the keeper no chance. Then again Philip Campbell, Harry Farson, Josh McAdam and Harry Lockhart all had chances saved before Campbell swivelled top circle and doubled the lead with a clinker!
So marching on into the semi final v Cirencester and with a youthful umpire at the helm the Academy relied time after time on the tackling prowess of Ryan Simms and James Orr as not only did they turn possession over but indeed used the ball well to set up Barlow for the opener. It looked as if that would be it but to their credit Cirencester refused to sit back and their pace attack forced two great saves from Luke Crory and a wonder block on the line from Philip Campbell.
With a tense and edgy few moments remaining a great through ball from Lockhart put Barlow in one on one and the Newry lad flicked home to fire the Academy into the final.
There was little time for rest and the team quickly prepared to face a Cheltenham team brimming with quality. The game lived up to the highest of standards and the Academy matched tackle for tackle and pass for pass what the English side could throw at them. The final touch eluded Campbell, Barlow and Lockhart from close range but the breakthrough eventually arrived as Joshua McAdam showed finesse to give the Banbridge side the lead seven minutes in.
Some resolute tackling and fine cover play from Farson, Simms and Orr kept the minstrel men out as wave after wave of strong running and skill was met with a solid challenge.
The Academy now lived on adrenalin and Barlow kept his reverse smash fluid taking the pressure off time and again when it looked as if Cheltenham might break free. Then with moments remaining they earned two consecutive set pieces and Luke Crory made a sensational double save to keep the Academy in the lead.
The skill and effort on display was on a different level to what the Academy had experienced this season and Harry Lockhart was bounced on several occasions by their skipper – who received a stern talking to from the Umpire. The game ended with Barlow feeding McAdam who had no time to run as the whistle sounded to allow the Academy to celebrate the sweetest of performances by being the Oxford winners for 2013.
The tour was one of the best displays of hockey, behaviour and manners seen in recent times and accolades have arrived in from Easyjet, Oxford United Fc and Travel Lodge praising the boys’ etiquette. The school would like to thank Mr Richard Jess, Nick, Joe, Anne and Caroline for their fantastic camaraderie and of course Roy and June for their amazing skills of coordination and timekeeping during the tournament. The junior sides are sponsored by NFU Mutual, Banbridge.