BANBRIDGE Academy’s boys hockey sides are preparing at all levels for the all important cup season which unfolds over the next few weeks.

Thursday, 24th January 2013, 8:00 am

The Academy senior sides, sponsored by the Belmont Hotel, are hoping now that exams are almost over and the forecast is for better temperatures that normality can return.

The first XI face a very challenging away fixture to old rivals Cookstown HS in what many see as the tie of the Burney Cup at the very first hurdle. They have been quietly getting on with preparations and a home tie against a solid Wallace HS side coached by Garvey assistant Errol Lutton will give some idea of how progress is shaping up. This coincides with important club games in the Junior Cup to provide many of the team with a challenging series of competitive games.

The inclusion of Jonny McKee in the Irish U18 sees the Academy play their game a week after the branch date to allow the talented teenager the chance to showcase his talent against the Ulster, Leinster and Munster U21 sides on the InterPros, staged at Garvey on the weekend of Friday February 1. He will enjoy the challenge of pitching his wits against the likes of Michael Anderson in Ulster’s goal and Bell, Moffett and Magee in the opposite side.

Coached by Steven Dawson, the firsts surprised many hockey followers across the province before Christmas as a fantastic fight back in the group stages of the McCullough Cup which saw them earn a play off against RBAI. This was to be a fine patch of three great weeks of passing and flowing hockey which resulted in wins over RBAI, Friends School Lisburn and Sullivan Upper to win the coveted Ulster title for the eighth time in the school’s long history of the game.

The two sides have met already just a matter of weeks ago with the Academy winning on that occasion 3-2 thanks to goals from Rory Woods, David McCracken and a stroke dispatched by Jonny McKee. The Burney Cup tie will be played at Cookstown HS on Saturday Feburary 9 at 9.30am.

The Second XI, coached by Mark Cordner, will be looking forward to their Cup season starting in the Dowdall Cup. This will be a welcomed proposition as they square up to other schools’ seconds in a competitive environment rather than the normal McCullough Cup underdogs tag they wear for the first part of the season against the best Ulster can provide.

The seconds have made some excellent progress this year enjoying victories over Grosvenor Grammar and a fantastic point away to a buoyant Wallace side in the McCullough Cup. They, along with the firsts, have a fantastic work ethic and togetherness and will enjoy the challenge of going to Wallace Seconds in round one of the Dowdall. The Wallace side will need to see off their Prior Shield final first so they have some time to finalise set plays ahead of that trip to Lisburn.

The U15 side, coached by Simon Jess will have a favourable home draw to enjoy as they face Belfast Royal Academy at Havelock on Saturday January 26 for a 10.30am start. The U15s have had another excellent season and capably lead by Sam Green the boys will enjoy home advantage and will hope to play some attacking hockey in their cup opener. The Academy have a distinguished track record in the Richardson, winning their first in 1949 and having made history by winning it for 10 consecutive years.#

The U14 side, captained by Lee Groves, has made huge strides forward this year and play hockey well ahead of their years. Their mature attacking and flair hockey will be tested at every turn though as they face the hardest of tests in the first round of the Ferris Cup. But the Academy are always tough for anyone to beat on their home patch and with the momentum building inside the U14s training camp they will be aggressive and passionate against last years Bannister winners and favourites Royal &Prior, Donegal. This game has been confirmed for a 12.30pm start at Havelock on Wednesday January 30, again all support is needed to help the efforts of the Academy lads.