ACADEMY SET FOR ALL IRELAND TEST

WITH the McCullough Cup and the Burney Cup both now safely locked away in the trophy cabinet, Banbridge Academy make the trip to Dublin on Wednesday for the John Waring Schoolboys' Championship in confident mood.

Wednesday, 24th March 2010, 9:24 am

After dominating Ulster schoolboys' hockey this season the Academy will be keen to make their mark at Irish level in this end of season tournament. They will, of course, be mindful of their semi-final exit to Wesley College in last October's Irish Schools' Tournament and will be aiming to improve on this performance.

On an Ulster level, Banbridge Academy have justified their place in the competition with those wins in the McCullough Cup and Burney Cup, but Ulster's other representatives, Campbell College, have qualified by virtue of their Burney Cup final appearance.

However, Wallace High School as runners-up in the Irish Schools' Tournament and in the McCullough Cup can justifiably claim to be Ulster's second best team and has every right to feel aggrieved that they will miss out on the opportunity to represent Ulster at the John Waring Championships.

The format that the Irish Hockey Association has come up with is also somewhat controversial. The tournament will be staged over one afternoon, comprising two groups of three teams each and a final for the top team in each group. Matches will last 20 minutes each way and there is little opportunity for rest and recovery between games.

Added to that is the choice of venue - Wesley College. With a wide choice of top-class facilities to choose from in Dublin, it seems a strange choice by the Irish Hockey Association to hand home advantage to Wesley who are one of the favourites to lift the trophy.

None of this will feature in the minds of the Academy players when they make the trip south on Wednesday. The excitement and anticipation of plying their skills against Dublin-based favourites Wesley College and Munster kingpins Bandon in the group stages will provide plenty of food for thought, and the opportunity to add yet more silverware to an already bulging Academy trophy cabinet will provide motivation in itself.

However, as coach Steven Dawson explains it might not all be plain-sailing for the Lurgan Road school this time.

"We will be missing our inspirational captain Stephen Dowds after he sustained an injury in the Burney Cup Final and Ciaran and Niall Kelly are both away on a university visit to England," he said.

"That leaves us short of three key players and has a major impact on our short-corner routine, which is far from ideal going into a competition like this.

I will be calling upon several of our U15 players to make the step up after they produced an excellent performance in lifting the Richardson Cup last week and this competition provides me with the opportunity to look at the younger players in a high-level competition and to start the planning process for next season.

"I am also delighted to welcome Robin Smyrl back into the squad now that he has recovered from the ankle injury sustained in the Burney Cup Quarter-Final against Wallace. Robin is a fantastic player and gives us a wonderful option in defence or in midfield."

Dawson was leaving naming his squad until after Monday afternoon's training session but he is undoubtedly referring to U15 players like Peter Brown, who produced a magnificent performance in the Richardson Cup Final, centre-forward Rory Woods, Ben Cosgrove who also featured in the Burney Cup win and U15 captain Thomas Sturgeon.

Despite Dawson's guarded approach he must be quietly optimistic as Wednesday approaches after witnessing the stunning performance of First XI vice-captain Phillip Brown in the Burney Cup final and Owen Magee's man of the match display.

Combined with the talents of players like Josh Moffett, Hugh McShane, Philip Doyle and Matthew Bell this young Academy squad should still be a force to be reckoned with.