Academy reach Burney Cup semi-finals as they get the Upper hand

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BANBRIDGE Academy’s first XI boys’ hockey team secured their place in this year’s Burney Cup semi-finals with an emphatic win over Holywood school Sullivan Upper on Saturday morning at Havelock Park.

After a resounding victory over schools’ hockey minnows Ballyclare Secondary in the previous round, this match on paper looked like a stern test for the Academy. However, the Banbridge side were much sharper on the day and they can take confidence from the way in which they stuck to their game plan and effectively controlled the match from start to finish.

Sullivan played a half-court press and this meant the first half saw the locals with plenty of possession and they confidently used this to their advantage. The platform of Matthew Bell and Peter Bennington in the heart of the defence switched the play from left to right as the Sullivan forwards chased side to side eagerly.

With Andrew Bingham and Michael Duggan in the wide defensive positions and Peter Brown in centre-midfield the forward passes into opposition territory flowed freely and the willingness of the forward line to collect those passes and to prioritise possession meant that the away team saw very little of the ball during the opening exchanges.

With nine minutes on the clock midfielder Ben Cosgrove put the Academy in the driving seat. Some good play down the right flank from Johnny McKee created space for Andrew Dickson to attack the circle and when he drew the foul the Academy had their first short-corner. A slick routine involving Bell and Brown left Cosgrove with a close range finish and he made no mistake with a determined effort that rattled the opposition backboards.

Despite going a goal behind so early in the match, Sullivan continued with their half-court press and, as a result, the locals continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession. There were chances for the forwards and both Owen Magee and Rory Woods had opportunities to increase the lead but clear-cut openings were at a premium.

The Academy boys did stick to their task though and some of the interchanging of passes was a joy to watch. However, the sucker-punch was always a concern and it duly arrived twelve minutes before half-time.

A rare foray into the Banbridge half saw Sullivan win a free hit just outside the twenty-five. With the Academy rear-guard slow to react, Sullivan took a quick free and two passes later their left-winger found himself deep in the Academy circle with only the on-rushing Michael Anderson in goal to beat. A neat reverse-stick finish brought Sullivan back on level terms.

The second half brought a significant change to the pattern of the game. With Sullivan tiring after all their defensive efforts in the first half and the locals keen to exploit this, there were a lot more goal-scoring opportunities.

After only five minutes of the half Sullivan were reduced to ten men when Matthew Allister was sent to the sin-bin for illegally controlling the ball with his stick above his shoulder. During this period the Academy took the lead again. Bell’s drag-flick from their third short-corner was saved on the line but Michael Duggan was there to pick up the rebound and he finished coolly from close range.

The third goal followed four minutes later, this time a long ball from Bell into the Sullivan circle found Cosgrove unmarked and his clever deflection left the ‘keeper stranded.

Two minutes later and the Academy had their fourth goal. With the calibre of the build-up play getting better and better, this opportunity came about after some excellent play from a long corner involving Woods and Brown, created an opportunity for the latter to get a shot away and when the ball came back of the ‘keeper, Matthew Warnock was there to snap up the rebound. The best was yet to come however, and when captain Owen Magee decided to get in on the act there was always a chance it would be something special. The mercurial skipper collected the ball wide on the left midway through the half. He jinked along the baseline sending defenders this way and then that before finally cutting inside and sending an unstoppable low drive past the ‘keeper.

The one low note in the half from an Academy point of view came when Thomas Sturgeon was sin-binned for a misdemeanour at a Sullivan free-hit. While Sturgeon was off the pitch Sullivan won two short corners in quick succession. Both efforts from Allister drew outstanding saves from Michael Anderson. The first effort was low down to his left and the second high to his right but the big ‘keeper was equal to both of them.

The locals wrapped up their scoring with only a few minutes of the game remaining. Some really sharp passing and moving involving Bell, Cosgrove and Woods created an opportunity for the latter on his reverse-stick and he lashed the ball into the net to seal an emphatic win.

The draw for the semi-finals is due to take place today (Tuesday), but with two of the quarter-finals not scheduled to be played until Wednesday, it may well be towards the end of the week before the completed line-up becomes clear.

The Academy team is backed by the Belmont Hotel.

Squad: M Anderson, A Bingham, P Bennington, M Bell, M Duggan, J McKee, P Brown, B Cosgrove, A Dickson, O Magee, R Woods, T Sturgeon, M Warnock, P Bingham.