Banbridge Academy and Royal School Armagh will renew their rivalry in Wednesday’s Ulster schoolgirls’ Super League final at Stormont (3.15pm).
The game is a repeat of the inaugural decider in 2016 when Armagh lifted the title with a 2-1 win and another closely-contested game is anticipated.
The Academy defeated Rainey Endowed 3-1 in Saturday’s semi-final, coming from a goal down after Ellie Stewart’s opener with second-half strikes from Irish Under-18 star Nadia Benallal, Katie McDonald and Sophie Mount.
Armagh’s tie with Omagh Academy went to the wire, with the 2016 Super League winners progressing 3-1 on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
Stacey Livingstone gave Armagh the lead but Omagh forced the shootout with a late penalty-corner equaliser scored by Jess Hood.
Both sets of players and coaches are looking forward to Wednesday’s showpiece.
“Since it’s inception two years ago, the Super League has been a huge success, driving the quality of competition even higher,” said RSA coach Greg Thompson. “Saturday’s semi-finals were a great advertisement for schoolgirl hockey, with plenty of quality shown on the pitch and healthy crowds supporting each school off it.
“I’m pleased for the girls who put in so much time and effort that they have reached the final of this year’s Super League, making it two years out of three.
“I’m obviously hoping for a repeat of the 2016 final but, either way, I’m sure it’ll be a great game for the neutrals.”
Academy coach Neil Madeley also expects a tough game as his team bid to make it a hat-trick of recent wins over Armagh.
“We have played them already this season and won 1-0 as part of the club’s pitch opening celebration day, although both sides were missing key players that day due to the UK School Games,” he said. “We also played them last season in the Senior Cup at the quarter-final stage and won 2-1 in a very tight game that Armagh led in for a long time.
“They are a very good side and play an exciting style of hockey under Greg’s experienced management, so we will have to work hard to compete with them.
“With the likes of Olivia Berry in their side they’ll be hard to beat and our girls know a lot about her as she plays her club hockey at Banbridge.
“For four of our side it will be their first major cup final at senior level and they are all looking forward to it.
“Saturday’s wins, for various reasons, will give both teams confidence going into the final and I would expect the game to be a tight affair between two evenly-matched sides.
“Both teams have match winners in Olivia and Nadia and it might take one of these two, with a bit of magic, to unlock two good defences.”
Wednesday’s final will be preceded by the Tier B decider at the same venue in which Grosvenor Grammar will face Glenlola Collegiate (1.30pm).
In Saturday’s semi-finals, Grosvenor GS beat Bloomfield Collegiate 1-0 and Glenlola Collegiate beat Limavady GS 2-0, with goals from Abby King and Erin Brown.
Glenlola coach Janice Vaughan is delighted to reach the final and said: “Limavady gave us a great match and really pushed us hard. We will have to play to our best again on Wednesday as we know Grosvenor well and expect another tough game.”