Banbridge Academy exited this year’s Schools’ Cup in heroic fashion on Saturday after a hard fought encounter with Coleraine Academical Institution.
The final score evidenced just how close a game it was. On the day, either team could have won the battle between two evenly matched sides.
It was a wet, windy and miserable day on ‘Mount Misery’ but this didn’t dampen the spirits of the large and vociferous crowd which had gathered as the two sides took to the field. The opening exchanges were hard-fought and it was clear both sides were determined to progress in the competition.
Coleraine, who came into the tie as clear favourites, were caught a little off guard by the ferocity of the Banbridge defence and made some early handling errors which only served to bolster the Academy side. In the opening 20 minutes, both sides had penalty attempts but both efforts went wide in the blustery conditions. It was Coleraine who got the scoring started however, when on 25 minutes after a period of concerted pressure, their forwards drove over the line for a try.
The conversion was added to take the score out to 7-0 but that was the end of the scoring for the half as both sides played the rest of time in the middle of the park.
Banbridge began the second half the brighter and pressed deep into the Coleraine half. On 45 minutes, after a series of drives, Banbridge were positioned directly under the Coleraine posts and quickly recycled the ball to move it wide to a clear two-man overlap. Seeing this clear scoring opportunity, the Coleraine defence raced up offside and the referee was left with no choice but to award a penalty try in the Academy’s favour. Full-back Daniel McElderry slotted the conversion to tie the scores up at 7-7.
The decisive period of the game came some 10 minutes later when Banbridge conceded a seemingly innocuous penalty on the half-way line. The Coleraine kicker stepped up and slotted the kick over from a full 50 metres. That buoyed the Coleraine team as almost straight form the restart they launched an attack and eventually scored in the corner. The extras were missed but that eight points in two minutes certainly hurt the Academy’s chances of winning leaving them needing two scores in the remaining 15 minutes.
Undaunted however, they set about their task with some gusto. They threw themselves into the game and after a further series of drives, Coleraine conceded a penalty which McElderry converted leaving Banbridge five points behind with just five minutes to play. Once again they threw all they had into the final stages but it was not to be and the referee blew the whistle on another schools cup campaign for the Academy.
On the day it was a great team performance but the forwards Ethan Harbinson, Rory Carson and Matthew Bell deserve special mention while Ben Carson and Rory Thompson were the pick of the back-line.
It was a hugely entertaining game, despite the horrendous conditions, and the Academy boys will take great pride from what was a magnificent performance against a seeded team who had already comprehensively beaten them earlier in the season.
The players now know that if they can bring that attitude and commitment with them into the Schools’ Bowl competition, then they have every chance of bringing some silverware back to the Academy again this season.
They have been drawn to play away to local rivals Portadown College in the quarter finals of the bowl on Saturday 8th February (kick-off 10.15am).