Academy secure fourth All-Ireland title in Cork

THE Senior Boys’ Hockey First XI from Banbridge Academy created a special piece of History on Friday when they won against all odds in Cork to become the first to do so back to back since 1994.

That time it was RBAI who did the unthinkable after Newry High School domination of the event since it started way back in 1981.

The 30th All Ireland Finals were staged in Cork thanks to the excellent organisation from Ashton Grammar School. The Co Down stars took to the field in each of their three group games knowing that only a win in each would guarantee them top spot and therefore qualification into the top four school in Irish hockey at semi final stage.

The opposition - St Columbas, Dublin - put in a physical first half with some pacey attacks but 13 minutes in skipper Owen Magee made no mistake after latching onto a well thrown aerial by Bell to control and finish from top circle.

It wasn’t long before it was 2-0 when Bell himself scored the first drag flick of the competition from a short corner.

The second half started brightly when Rory Woods went on one of his trademark powerful runs and smashed it in to make it 3-0 on 41 minutes. Just moments later young Johnny McKee got his first ever Irish schools debut off to a great start by ending off a superb bit of hockey from Cosgrove and Woods to make it 4-0.

The Academy now really had their tails up and Ben Cosgrove smashed in a fine set piece corner to make it 5-0 in the 47th minute. It was a case of squad rotation now and getting the all important goal difference up and Johnny McKee, Owen Magee and Rory Woods all battled in with three great goals to set the bar high with an emphatic 8-0 win in game one.

The first day always brings a series of unpredictable results and RBAI found the going tough against Middleton College as they lost out 4-3 in their opening game. So there was no doubt that game two was going to be a close encounter as The Academy had to play the Cork kingpins at their own patch.

It was a frosty but clear morning as they arrived to a pitch that was surrounded by the entire college staff and pupils but the huge atmosphere soon got hotter as Jordan Dermott in goal made a series of top class saves to keep the score level at half time.

The Cork side remained strong in the tackle and slick on the attack and it took an expertly dragged goal from Bell on 38 minutes to finally break the deadlock.

But Middleton, spurred on by their crowd, returned the gesture with powerful drag flick of their own to send their support into full voice knowing that a draw could well be enough to get them a semi final place come the end of the day.

With less than a minute remaining the Academy found Brown who liked with Colussi and Magee was upended to earn a short corner on the full time whistle.

Then what would prove a pivotal moment arrived as Matthew Bell stood up and drag flicked home again to dramatically score the winner for the Academy, the sweetest of sporting moments!

It was a matter of getting the feet up and grabbing what rest the players could before what was the group decider. A draw would be enough to top the group and put the Academy into the draw for the semis at the annual tournament dinner but would they simply defend?

The answer was, thankfully, no. The RBAI team decided to go for a patient style of game. They happily sat in and made it difficult to get through them limiting their chance to two corners both of which Michael Anderson dealt well with.

The deadlock was broken early in the second half as late recruit Michael Colussi collected a well timed pass from Dickson and smashed home from an acute angle in off a Belfast inst stick to make it 1-0 Academy. The big head boy’s goal was to be the deciding factor as the remainder of the game saw cagey hockey, the final score being a group topping 1-0 to Banbridge.

Then after a very enjoyable meal at The Rochestown Park Hotel with all 16 schools attending the draw was made for the top four schools – Cookstown HS would play Wesley College, Dublin and Banbridge Academy would face favourites St Andrew's College, Dublin.

The St Andrew's side faced the Academy in the final last year and with nine of the same side back in action they stated the stronger with some fine hockey.

The Academy coped well with early attacks and Rory Woods saw his shot well saved by the big Dublin keeper with McKee’s follow up glanced around the post by the Andrew's number one. Play went end to end with aerial attack the Dublin tactic and one such throw found the Andrews forward who neatly worked ball to foot for a short in the eighth minute.

The resulting short corner was superbly deflected from close in by the sliding St Andrews forward giving the immaculate Anderson no chance, 1-0 Andrew's.

It was all guns blazing then for the Academy in the second half as they knew they had 30 minutes to change the way the Tasmanian Shield was heading North from Cork. The midfield of Bingham, Dickson, Cosgrove, Brown, Colussi all dug in deep and McKee, Magee, Woods and Ferguson powered away to grind at the blue defence of Andrews.

With just three minutes remaining Michael Duggan collected a pass from Sturgeon to make a simple direct run over 30 meters before being fouled abruptly – resulting in a corner. This was to be the moment once again for Matthew Bell and his clever drag found the corner to the delight of the passionate and vocal parental contingent from Banbridge who made the trip to Cork to see that type of brilliance.

So with time now over it would be the dreaded penalty Strokes that would decide the finalists. It was to be the Academy to start and Bell sent the keeper the wrong way only to see the post deny him.

Then the 'Anderson show' began and the big Banbridge 'keeper went to another mental place as he denied all Dublin strokes to allow Cosgrove, Brown and skipper Magee the opportunity to fire home superbly for a 3-0 win.

The scenes rivalled those of the previous season’s dramatic events at Wesley but the squad was soon brought back down to earth by Coach Steven Dawson who wanted a swift and quiet exit to prepare for the final.

The other semi final was not going to plan, and Cookstown HS found themselves held to a 1-1 and facing strokes against Wesley College after yet another goal from senior Irish International Ian Sloan. They eventually won it 7-6 after sudden death strokes, so it would be an all Ulster final in Cork.

The final started at a ferocious pace and Cookstown sat in well hitting the Academy on the counter very well. Some early decisiveness saw Cookstown earn three short corners and Sloan was denied by three smart saves from the 'wall' in goal, Michael Anderson. Some great play by McKee, Woods and Magee kept the Cookstown defence busy and the Co Tyrone keeper saved well on two opportunities in the first quarter.

Then in the 13th minute it was 1-0 to the Academy as Bell once more dispatched a slick drag to find the corner of the goal. This lit the spark for the Cookstown side and a quickly smashed ball to circle was deftly deflected by Johnston to bring the scores back to level on 16 minutes.

The second period was open and flowing with both sides showing signs of fatigue. The mistakes by both sides could have been counted on one hand and Cosgroves role on Sloan was clearly evident as any shot he had were forced on the backhand side, again Anderson more than up to the questions being asked by the Irish men’s player.

The passing and movement so infamous with Dawson’s style of coaching now began to kick in and the great desire to win was worn on the sleeves as each squad player was in the thick of things in the final 17 minutes. The skills of Peter Brown allowed a corner to be earned in the 49th minute and an intelligent variation saw Captain Owen Magee deflect in and put the Academy into a 2-1 lead.

The last 10 minutes were to see the best from both sides as time after again both keepers were called into action as Woods, Magee and Cosgrove all hit shots and Millar, Johnston and Sloan all found Anderson in no mood to chuck away a second All Ireland medal.

With seconds remaining the perseverance of Magee and Woods in the Cookstown circle earned another corner, but with the whistle sounded it was to prove unimportant as the title of Irelands Best Schoolboy Hockey side returned for their first time ever back to back in the Lurgan Road school's trophy cabinet.

The scenes of celebration in Cork will long be remembered by those who witnessed a famous victory for the Academy. They have now won the trophy in 1992 with coach Fergie Cosgrove, in 2006 with Mark Cordner, and now two on the trot for ex-Head Boy and now Maths teacher Steven Dawson.

The work of Aaron Appleton and the influence and coaching skills of Simon Jess all pulled together as the Team and coaching staff enjoyed the trip back up the motorway from Cork in fine spirit.