Banbridge Academy reached their fourth Ulster Senior schoolgirls’ Cup final in a row last Wednesday when they defeated Strathearn 1-0 to earn a date with Ballyclare High in the final at Lisnagarvey on March 6.
The 2017 winners started favourites in the semi-final at Comber Road but Strathearn put up a brave battle after trailing to an early goal as they went on to dominate most of the exchanges and were unlucky not to have at least forced a penalty shootout. Bidding to progress to the final for the first time since 1992, the Belfast school had two shots cleared off the line and a goal disallowed, winning the the penalty corner count 8-3.
However, their set-piece routine let them down as, all too often, they failed to get a shot on target, relying on intricate variations, rather than opting for a more direct approach which might have been more productive.
Nadia Benallal was the heroine of the hour, scoring the all-important early goal that eventually won the game although she also missed a penalty stroke shortly after the restart. The Academy captain admitted that her team have much room for improvement before they tackle 2012 winners Ballyclare next month.
After a cagey opening spell, Bann took the lead in the 12th minute when Nadia fired home a rebound from the right channel after Katie McDonald’s shot from the first penalty corner of the game had been blocked.
However, instead of settling any early nerves for their Banbridge, that setback seemed to be just the incentive Strathearn needed as they mounted a series of attacks. Almost immediately, Jenny Wilson had a shot taken of the line by Holly Hannah and then the Strathearn striker had a set-piece effort saved by Rebecca Spence.
From another corner, Kate Wills’ deflected shot was stopped by a Bann defender close to the line and then came that disallowed goal.
Erin Stewart’s effort crashed off the post from yet another set-piece and Wills knocked in the rebound but the ‘goal’ was ruled out because the ball hadn’t left the circle before the initial shot was taken. Six minutes into the second half, Academy were awarded a penalty stroke after ‘feet’ on the line but Benallal’s sent the ball wide from the spot. Strathearn continued to have the edge after that, winning three more corners but they were unable to find an equaliser. In the second semi-final, Ballyclare defeated holders Rainey Endowed 1-0.