Banbridge Academy were crowned all-Ireland schoolgirl hockey champions for the first time when they crushed a gallant Ursuline Convent Thurles side 6-2 in the final game of the Kate Russell Cup tournament at Havelock Park.
The Academy were indebted to captain fantastic, Orla Thompson, who scored a first-half hat-trick as Bann built up an unassailable 5-1 interval lead against the Tipperary girls.
Orla’s team needed any sort of win going into the last game of the tournament but their task could have been more difficult had Muckross Park not scored a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with Kilkenny College in the previous game.
Had Kilkenny, who had drawn 1-1 with their hosts earlier in the day, held on for the three points that would have left the Academy needing to win by three clear goals against Ursuline.
However, it’s doubtful whether the Munster side, with only pride to play for, could have prevented a rampant Banbridge side from achieving that notional target which they did for good measure anyway.
After the final, Banbridge’s inspirational captain was presented with the Kate Russell Cup by Hockey Ireland president Ivy Dennis.
“It was my last game for the Academy and I will be sad to leave the school but what a way to finish off the season, with our first All-Ireland title after also winning the Ulster Senior Cup for the first time earlier in the month.” said Orla.
“We didn’t really know what to expect going into the Kate Russell because we knew very little about the teams we were up against.
“But it all came good in the end after what was a superb effort from the entire squad and what can I say about our coach, Neil Madeley - he’s an absolute legend.
“We were really professional during the tournament even down to Neil arranging for us to have ice-baths between games.
“We made sure we stayed off our feet between matches because we knew that rest and recovery was important with four games in two days,” she added.
Bann got off to the perfect start as Katie McKee eased any early nerves after only 20 seconds with a superb solo effort.
Drifting down the left and firing an unstoppable reverse-stick shot low into the net from a wide angle.
Seven Minutes later, Lauren McGaw made it 2-0 after a clever pass from McKee had found Thompson who icked out her team mate at the far post.
Then Charley Brush set up Thompson for her first goal in the 12th minute following a well-rehearsed penalty-corner switch.
The Academy heroine made it 4-0 with a carbon-copy following another set-piece and then Thompson completed her hat-trick before the break after Caoimhe Perdue had scored to make it 4-1.
Izzy Walsh again reduced the margin two minutes after the break but, seven minutes later, McKee crossed from the left for Nadia Benallal to wrap things up and cue the celebrations.
Results: Banbridge 1 (O Thompson) Kilkenny 1; Muckross Park 1 Colaiste Iognaid 0; Colaiste Iognaid 1 Ursuline 2; Kilkenny 1 Muckross Park 1; Banbridge 6 (K McKee, L McGaw, O Thompson 3, N Benallal) Ursuline 2;
Final placings: 1 Banbridge 10pts; 2 Kilkenny 8; 3 Muckross Park 7; 4 Ursuline 3; 5 Colaiste Iognaid 0.