THE Banbridge Academy First XV created their own slice of history last Wednesday by lifting the Danske Bank Schools Trophy and thereby becoming the first ever Academy team to win a senior school’s trophy. in the sport
The final which was held at Dungannon RFC was against Portora Royal School, a school with its own rich rugby history. It was a hard fought battle between two committed sides but the Academy eventually wore down their Fermanagh opponents and ran out 32-0 winners.
The game was played on a perfect day for rugby and a large crowd of pupils, staff and past-pupils from both schools gathered at Stevenson Park to cheer on their teams. The vuvuzela’s of the Banbridge Academy supporters battled with the drums of the Portora supporters and the atmosphere was truly eclectic as the teams took the field to a tremendous cheer.
The Academy started the brighter and a couple of surges into the Portora half led to an early penalty from out-half Aaron Kennedy which give Banbridge the lead.
Portora then found their feet and put the Academy line under serious pressure but stout defence around the fringes kept the line intact and when Banbridge advanced up the field once more a series of good forward drives, led by the impressive prop Calum Boardman, eventually led to a smart switch move between Kennedy and centre Gareth Liggett who burst through the hole and dragged three defenders over the line with him. Unbeknownst at the time Ligget had broken his collarbone while completing this score and he eventually, at halftime, had to leave the game. The conversion was missed leaving an 8-0 lead to Banbridge.
The game broke up into a kicking battle as halftime neared but the Academy still had two penalty chances which went wide one from Kennedy and one full back Daniel McElderry, probably the only blemish on what was an excellent performance from fifth former McElderry. Half time came with the Academy still maintaining their 8-0 lead.
Shortly after the break the Academy lost another player to injury. Flanker and captain David McKeown dislocated his shoulder in a tackle and was forced from the pitch, albeit rather unwillingly, but this only seemed to spur on the County Down boys who, through winger Nathan McKinley scored two tries in the space of three minutes to effectively decide the tie.
The first score came after a series of forward drives and when the ball was moved right McKinley stepped a couple of would-be tacklers and drove over the line. The second was a loose clearance kick from Portora which was filed on the left hand side of the pitch and moved swiftly right to McKinley who raced through the cover defence to dot down again. Kennedy added the extras and took the score to a decisive 20-0.
After this Portora then threw caution to the wind and had their best spell of the game. They secured more possession and tried to unleash their backline but the Academy defence was superb and despite the valiant efforts of the Portora boys the Academy refused to allow them to cross their line.
With just five minutes left on the clock it was clear that Portora had spent all their energy and Banbridge surged upfield again and after several darts from the forwards substitute out-half Paddy Hayes threw a trademark dummy to slip through the Portora defence and score under the posts. Kennedy again added the conversion.
Deep in injury time the Academy had their last attack and as phase piled on phase the Portora defence once again slipped and this time a beautifully weighted cross-field kick from Hayes was patiently waited on by winger Matthew Armstrong who eventually pounced on the bouncing ball for the crowing score.
That left the final score at 32-0 which was harsh on a talented and brave Portora side but was just reward for the skill and efforts shown by the Academy team.
Jubilant celebrations followed the final whistle as the Banbridge players realised the enormity of what they had achieved – the school’s first ever senior trophy! After the scenes of joy had settled a little Ulster Schools Chairman Mr Ian Graham presented both sets of players with their hard earned medals. The day was crowned when injured captain David McKeown stepped up and raised the prized Ulster Schools Trophy above his head to the joyous cheers of the many Academy supporters and parents who had waited a long time to see this moment.
Well done to all the players from the Academy First XV on an achievement and a day which will live long in the memory!