Banbridge Academy captain Nadia Benallal admits an improved performance will be required if her team are to lift the Ulster Senior Cup for the second time in Wednesday’s final against Ballyclare High at Lisnagarvey (2pm).
The Academy reached the showpiece for the fourth year in five but they made hard work of beating underdogs Strathearn 1-0 in the semi-final.
Benallal experienced a myriad of emotions during a tense contest, scoring what proved to be the winning goal and then missing a penalty stroke early in the second half.
After that it was a rearguard action from Neil Madeley’s side, who had to repel wave after wave of Strathearn attacks.
“I think there’s a lot of small areas we can improve on, but mostly we just need to start gelling like a team again like we did in the quarter final against Wallace,” Nadia said.
“Ballyclare have always been a strong side and they played really well in the semi final as they had to to beat Rainey, who were the holders.”
Bann will be hoping that their 2017 quarter-final win over Ballyclare will turn out to be a good omen as they went on to lift the trophy in the same year, beating Wallace 4-0 in the final.
On that occasion, Katie McKee scored a hat-trick and then helped her team lift the All Ireland title at Havelock Park.
Nadia is one of a handful of survivors from the class of 2017 and her experience and ability which has seen her make the Ireland Under 18 squad will be invaluable.
In defender Ellen Reid, who played for the Ireland Under 21s in their international series against Great Britain earlier this year, the Academy have another key player.
However, Ballyclare won the most recent encounter between the sides and, although starting as slight underdogs, they are a force to be reckoned with as they demonstrated in beating Rainey.
“We played them last year in the semi final of the Super League and lost on strokes after a 0-0 draw, “ Nadia added.
“We beat them 2-1 in the quarter final of the cup a year earlier, so I think those results suggest it will be another close game this time.”
However, Nadia is hoping the Academy’s more recent experience of playing in the final and the atmosphere that goes with it, will prove useful.
Ballyclare, in contrast, will be making their first appearance in the decider since 2012, and so it will be a new experience for them.
“I think having a number of girls who have experienced playing in big games will definitely help us but it will come down to what happens on the day,” Nadia said.
“The atmosphere is obviously a lot to take in but during the game, speaking personally, I don’t really notice it much
“As a team, we have just been training hard together and putting everything into each session and trying to use the time we have to prepare us as best we can.
“To win the cup again would be the perfect way to end my final year at school and the same for some of the other girls, but we are in no doubt how tough it will be against Ballyclare.”