THE Belmont Hotel backed second XI met a quality Friends side and a keeper on top form as Craig Campbell grabbed the Academy goal early in the second half.
The Reds started well and chances went begging as Scott Campbell and McCluskey found the Lisburn keeper rather than the backboard.
Through persistent aerial ball the Friends side also tested Academy keeper Justin Glass in top form.
The Lisburn boys did eventually find a way past the defensive trio and deservedly took the lead going into half time.
The second half started much brighter for the Academy and Campbell and McCluskey linked well to set up a fine opportunity- again denied by the Friends keeper. Further penetrating runs by McCoy, Scott and Sneddon gave Campbell the chance to shoot and he swiveled well finishing in off the side board to level it at 1-1.
The game showed all the passion of a final and Glass time and time again kept Friends out when it looked ominous for the Academy. Huge heart from Mark Campbell, Joshua Rowe, Tim Watt and Johnny Gregson thwarted attacks and Armstrong carried ball in the dying minutes to their end line before seeing his cross go wide.
The end to end action continued in extra time with both defenses being battered- Michael Young and Aled McCluskey gave fresh legs and it looked like the Academy would snatch it as Craig Campbell ghosted wide of the keeper but his reverse lift towards goal rolled wide of the target.
Friends too forced two set pieces and one drag was literally worn by Mark Campbell as he defended to post.
Then with the final phase of the game the Academy won a short corner as the whistle sounded. The Academy all flooded the circle but the pass went stray and it would end in a share of the Dowdall.
The team should be rightly proud of a great run this year with wins over Bangor and Grosvenor alongside the away draw against Wallace High First XI in the McCullough Cup.
They will rue the chances that went begging early in the first half of the Dowdall but it could so easily have been Friends day.
All in all it was a tale of the two keepers – both of whom kept their side in the game.
Thanks to all the parents, staff and governors who attended Saturday’s final at the Dub.